Six months ago, promotion was an inevitability. The manager and the supporters viewed the League Two title as an extrinsic reward on the path to perfection and the implementation of a style of play that would leave the division in awe; it was to be pure footballing righteousness.
Four months ago, promotion was still probable but it had been an unexpected poor start. Three defeats from three, without scoring, was a wake-up call. A summer of poor recruitment and arrogant rhetoric from the club had contributed to the building up of expectations; they were knocked down quite quickly.
Two months ago, promotion wasn’t happening this year – lets make absolutely sure of survival. A bottom six position as the second-half of the season got underway. Wanderers wouldn’t go down but the fact that wasn’t an immediately obvious statement meant this season was a write-off and a failure.
Now, here we are.
Survival is assured and a mid-table position beckons, or… does it?
Three points off the playoff places and six points off the automatic spots with 17 games to go. It is below the pre-season expectations, obviously, but they don’t matter anymore. What matters is: Bolton are giving themselves a chance and it is getting quite exciting.
A switch in formation, impressive January signings and the continued development of Evatt’s coaching has given Wanderers a fighting chance. One defeat in eight, a run that involves four wins in the last five.
However, they are yet to majorly impress for long-stretches. The most impressive of those four victories came against Leyton Orient; the start of the winning run. A comfortable and dominant display, without being overly threatening, was reflected perfectly in the score-line. Since then; Wanderers have squeezed past the lowly Stevenage and Southend, the latter of which requiring a comical goalkeeping error.
The ‘most fun’ and surprising of the four would be the victory at Mansfield. 2-0 down with just over ten minutes to go but Bolton still managed to take three points – it would be churlish and hyper-critical to be negative… Let’s give it a go anyway. A cross, an own goal and a fine strike by Gnahoua won a game that had been fairly even, if not shaded by the hosts.
Basically, it hasn’t necessarily been convincing.
Another concern would be the similarities between this run of form and November. In November, Bolton won four straight games (Salford, Stevenage, Scunthorpe and Southend) – then they conceded six at home to Port Vale and won one of their next nine. Talk of the supposedly complex philosophy finally sinking in was rife and there was some anticipation that Wanderers would steam-roll it until May.
There are, of course, major differences to that November run. As noted, the change in system and January signings will give Wanderers fans confidence that this is a more sustainable run.
Equating Bolton’s use of a back four, and subsequent up-turn in form, to the romantic search for an ideal love is perhaps a bit forced.
However, there is something to be said of it; it is all about adjustment.
The adjustment of expectation has led to a practical and psychological shift. On-the-pitch, the ideology of the manager has been softened and has led to a slightly more functional but still progressive, with potential, approach. Off-the-pitch, supporters reached an acceptance of mediocrity at best, relegation battle at worst; therefore, the relaxed view of pleasant surprise after each win has led us to finding an ideal love. That love being hope without jeopardy.
It is inevitable the pressure will rise if Wanderers carry on and continue to get closer but, for now, just enjoy this ride.
“The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly coloured, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun – for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” – William Melvin Hicks