Key player: Eoin Doyle
Whilst noting that Doyle hasn’t always hit the same heights in the third tier than in the forth, 19 goals for the 33 year old last season takes his tally up to forty four in two seasons,so despite turning 34 next year, Doyle is coming off two seasons of top form. That’s not to say that Doyle hasn’t succeeded in league one either, a runner up to his career best tally at Swindon is 21 goals at Chesterfield in this division for the 2014/15, ultimately earning a January move to Championship club Cardiff City.
Also scoring 14 goals at Oldham Athletic in 2017/18 in this division, Bolton fans can be hopeful that the number nine can once again hit double figures, especially in a system revolved around creating chances.
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Manager: Ian Evatt
The 2019/20 season was a very successful one for Ian Evatt, the former Defender was gaining national attention, for his work at National league Barrow. Evatt had smashed assumptions into pieces that the National League was only for teams who play a direct, physical style of football.
With an intricate fluid style where passing was paramount, the young coach played a high pressing, 3-4-1-2 formation, in which he cited Pep Guardiola and former manager Ian Holloway as his biggest influences on style.
So, naturally when Barrow were confirmed as champions on PPG for their first promotion to the Football League in 48 years there was lots of speculation of whether Evatt would move on to test his abilities on a bigger stage.
Bolton Wanderers came calling, a club with history of European nights in the Allianz Arena and being home football legends including Jay-Jay Okocha, Nicholas Anelka and Fernando Hierro.
That would be hard to turn down wouldn’t it, a club and fanbase wounded from the toil of administration, newly relegated to League Two, but fresh from the hope of new ownership, ambition and identity.
With that and a club the size of Bolton Wanderers, comes expectation and expectation for the best players.
So in comes top scorer for 19/20 in League Two, Eoin Doyle on a transfer from Bradford City after he scored 25 Goals in just 34 games on loan at eventual champions Swindon Town.
Midfielder Antoni Sarcevic arrives from Argyle too after being arguably the standout player in The Pilgrims promotion campaign, finishing with a healthy 11 goals and 6 assists in all competitions and appointed captain.
So some star signings, but as we’ve seen at all levels of football, spending big money and signing the best players doesn’t always work if they don’t suit the team’s style.
After a slow start of just three wins in ten matches, pressure began to build on Evatt and new captain and Sarcevic, who was being used as an attacking midfielder instead of the number eight position where he had just excelled the season before for Argyle. By the end of the January, Bolton were languishing in 19th, 14 points off top spot and pressure was at his highest for Evatt, who seemed to be the conversation of lower league Football Twitter.
Bolton looked to be heading for another season in league two, and their manager’s future in huge, but a remarkable run of 14 wins in 19 starting with a 1-0 win over Stevenage on the 13th of February, conceding just twelve in the process meaning Bolton went into the last day of the season having to win at Crawley to clinch automatic promotion. They did with ease a 1-4 win including a goal from Sarcevic. The most unlikely turn around had happened, Bolton had gone up in third. The dour mood had been turned into ecstasy in just two and a half months and Bolton can now go into the next season optimistic, having kept all of their key players at the time of writing this article.
Rock: Ricardo Santos
The Portuguese centre back joined from National League club Barnet at the start of 2019/20, being one of the few standout performers throughout for the Trotters. As of February 2021, Santos was top of the list for % of challenges won with 79% or 398 out of 505 and was also high up on the list for % of passes completed throughout the season.
Quick, strong and only 26 years of age, Santos was included in the PFA team of the season for 2019/20 Bolton have done well to keep to keep the centre back at the club for this season, and Bolton fans can surely look forward to the whites’ number 5 playing another key role this season.
Key transfer: Josh Sheehan
The main man for Newport County over the last five years, Sheehan is a really talented and composed midfielder, able to play in the deeper role or further forward. Much of Newport’s success over that time (getting to the league two play off final in 2019 and 2021) has been based on letting Sheehan on the ball, and he was captain for the amber army last season where they fell at the last hurdle to Morecambe in extra time.
The 26 year old could also consider himself unlucky to have missed out on the final Wales squad for Euro 2020 after being included in numerous squads over the last year, making two caps.
If Sheehan can make his impact on this Bolton side I feel that they could really benefit from his talent, both in transition with quick passing and going forward.
Having won promotion last season, that was obviously the start of Bolton’s aim to return to the top. However, after a whirlwind few years I feel that Bolton should aim for consolidation first and see what comes after that. Ultimately there are stronger more experienced clubs in this division for me to give anything other than a top half target. If they find themselves around the top half of the league with a few weeks to go and feel that they can push for the playoffs, great but I would air on the side of caution first of all.
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