Bolton Wanderers’ relegation to the third-tier of English football was finally confirmed on Saturday afternoon following a heavy 4-1 defeat at Derby County – a loss which condemned the club to League One.
The lack of fight and desire from the players at the club throughout this season has been nothing short of diabolical, with this current squad of individuals having broken unwanted records, in what has been a sorry state of affairs for everyone associated with the club.
So it was no surprise that the events at the iPro Stadium occurred in the way they did. Johnny Russell’s brace sandwiched in-between strikes from Tom Ince and Jacob Butterfield were met with Bolton’s solitary reply of Zach Clough’s late penalty – as the Greater Manchester side went down with a whimper. Wanderers have slipped out of a division they graced for four years amid financial difficulties, a change in ownership, the untimely death of former chairman, Phil Gartside, and a managerial departure, making this without doubt the worst campaign in living memory.
The Trotters have also failed to record an away victory for an entire calendar year, a feat which in itself was tough to comprehend, tasting success on the road on April 6, 2015, in a 3-0 triumph at Cardiff City, when Eidur Gudjohnsen and a Craig Davies brace sealed the win in south Wales, but now it is unfortunately a date that will be consigned to the record books for all the wrong reasons.
So, what factors subsequently played a part in the downfall of the once Premier League stalwarts, who have been sent packing to League One for the first time in 23 years, under a cloud of uncertainty, on and off the pitch?
Well, where do I start? Off the field of play, Bolton were ever so close to being wound-up, due to an unpaid tax-bill of £2.2million following a financial calamity of the highest order, only to be saved at the last minute by Dean Holdsworth’s Sports Shield consortium, who successfully completed the £7.5million takeover from former owner, Eddie Davies.
Neil Lennon’s fruitless 17 months at the helm concluded with his departure by mutual consent in mid-March. Jimmy Phillips was promoted from a role with the academy to oversee the first-team on an interim-basis, but unfortunately the damage had already been done, and four defeats in four games under Phillips’ stewardship proved to be the final nail in the coffin for their Championship status.
Back on the pitch, senior players simply have not performed. Only a few members of that team can hold their head up high, and a rebuild on a large scale will also undoubtedly happen over the course of the coming weeks and months, as the Whites gear up for a challenge which test their resolve.
In recent times, Leicester City, Norwich City, Southampton, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic have both been relegated into the league in which Bolton will grace in August. All of the clubs mentioned above are an appropriate example of how to completely start afresh in the third division of the English football pyramid, and this is something that Bolton must aim to achieve, sooner rather than later.
One of the biggest challenges that Holdsworth and new chairman, Ken Anderson, will face prior to the start of the campaign will be the appointment of a new permanent manager, and it is a decision that they must get right, for the stability and long-term future of the club, whoever it may be – these deeper, outstanding issues will need to be resolved in a swift manner.
The new owners will also have contend with a £5million loss in revenue through television and sponsorship rights to make matters worse, following on from the drop into the division – this is another problem that Sports Shield will need to contend with.
League One football will give Bolton a new platform to build for the seasons to come. Given the turnover of players who are set to depart, we are likely to see more youngsters blooded into the tough environment of the lower leagues, whilst the transfer embargo will hopefully be lifted in the coming weeks, giving the new man some resources, which are understandably expected to be limited, once again.
The relegation that the Trotters endured at the weekend is a bitter pill to swallow. But it can also be seen as a fresh start. Bolton have been in need of wholesale changes for a while now, and the squad next season must pull together to right the wrongs that their predecessors of this term made.