Continuing on with our View From The Enemy series, Chris Mann from Bolton blog Burnden Aces has spoken to us about
Scott the Red: Were you happy with your team’s performance last season?
Chris Mann: Up until the end of March, we had spent the whole season inside the top eight and then, all of a sudden, things just fell apart. While the home form was as good as it has been for a good few years, the away form was nothing short of appalling. 11 defeats in 12 since the end of November put the fans off making away trips. The only game we didn’t lose was a 1-1 draw against 10-man Newcastle. Getting to the Semi-Finals of the FA Cup was a huge achievement for us, but the way the team fell apart on the day was tough to watch and will, unfortunately, become the lasting memory of what faded out into a disappointing end to the campaign.
STR: We don’t have particularly fond memories from that weekend at Wembley either! Who were your most important players in helping you with any of the success of last season?
CM: After failing to score in six of our eleven games since the end of November, Daniel Sturridge’s arrival at the end of January put halt to an alarming slide down the league table. He scored in his first four games for the club and ended up with eight in 12 before the end of the season, a record which means he will almost certainly be staying at Chelsea this season.
But, while Sturridge may have scored the goals, our main man last season was Stuart Holden. He was an almost ever-present throughout the season until he was stretchered off during our defeat at Old Trafford. Wanderers fans knew he was a good player, but our form after he received the injury made us realise just how important he really is. Unfortunately, he won’t be fit until September/October, so the struggle may live on for a while yet.
STR: His reaction to the injury was really good too, fair play to him. There was no intent there but plenty of players could have made a song and dance about it. Do you think you’re covered for a few months without him? How has Bolton done in the transfer market this summer?
CM: We’ve been pretty quiet about our business this summer. You could say we have replaced the outgoings with better quality, but nobody really stands out as the big name we all want.
Darren Pratley, Nigel Reo-Coker, Tyrone Mears and Chris Eagles have all been brought in for a combined fee of around £3m, while the sales of Ali Al Habsi, Matt Taylor and young striker Danny Ward have brought in more than £7m.
With the profit we have made, rumours have it that we have agreed a fee to sign Shaun Wright-Phillips from Manchester City, but matching the players wage demands may prove to be a stumbling block. Reports also suggest we’re close to signing former Middlesbrough and Stoke striker Tuncay Sanli on a season-long loan from Wolfsburg too.
STR: Some great business there. What are your aspirations for this season with these new players?
CM: After spending the majority of last season challenging for Europe, it would be good to see the club make another push this time round. The alarming end to the season and our tough run of fixtures at the start of this campaign could see us propping up the league by the end of September, so any predictions have to be realistic. If we could improve on last season’s 14th placed finish and make a move towards the top half, I think the fans will be happy that we will have avoided another relegation fight.
STR: How do you rate Coyle’s ability to take the club forward?
CM: There is no doubt that Owen Coyle has moved the club forward since taking over from Gary Megson, despite last season’s league position. We finished with 46 points, our highest since 2006/07 when 56 saw us quality for Europe. The older and higher earners are slowly being moved on and younger, English, players are being brought in. Hopefully we can continue to improve the way we play, whilst also getting the results we need to become a force once again.
STR: Where do you think you will finish this season?
CM: As I said before, we finished last season poorly and probably couldn’t have asked for a tougher start to this one. We will probably be down at the bottom by the end of September but if we can stop the rot and get a few good results going our way, I don’t see why we can’t be aiming for a mid-table finish this season. I will say 10th.
STR: Which player do you think will most important in helping you achieve this?
CM: Getting Stuart Holden back from injury will be a big moment in our season. The tough run of games should be over by the time he returns and he should then be able to slot back into our midfield and become the catalyst he was in our success last season until the injury.
We will miss Daniel Sturridge but hopefully we can get another striker in with something to prove and we can do something to try and improve the number of goals we scored last season.
STR: Which two current United players would you most want at your club? Why?
CM: I will try to stay away from the obvious duo of Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs here and go for names that may actually be a little more realistic.
Despite what he says, Michael Owen must be disappointed that his successful career has been wrecked by injury and he is no more than a bench warmer these days. If he could prove his fitness during a loan spell at a less fashionable club, it may prompt other clubs to become interested in signing him on a permanent basis later down the line. Bolton would then have the joy of his goals and United would profit from selling a backup player at a future date.
The other name I’m going to say is Tom Cleverley. He impressed at Wigan last season and was in the England squad until this week’s friendly was called off. He’s probably not quite ready for the United first team and would benefit from another stint out on loan.
STR: We’ve had a few players out on loan last season. How important have the players you’ve taken on loan been to you over the past couple of seasons?
CM: I’ve already said how important Daniel Sturridge was to us last season, but our most documented loan deal was Jack Wilshere. He was a little raw when he joined the club, but as he integrated into the squad at the Reebok, he made steady progress.
He never really stood out, but it was obvious to see he had the talent to improve and become a success later in his career. We wanted to sign him again last year, but Arsenal decided to keep him and will probably be a little surprised at how quickly his stock has risen.
Wilshere is now a regular in the Arsenal team and has also managed to force his way between the disappointing duo of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the England setup. Hopefully the success stories of Wilshere and Sturridge will persuade Owen Coyle to try his luck with another young player this season.
STR: What do you make of your former captain Kevin Nolan’s decision to join Allardyce in the Championship?
CM: When Nolan left us for Newcastle, the time was right. He had suffered with terrible form for the best part of 3 seasons and it was in the best interests of the player and the club for him to seek pastures new. Newcastle’s relegation to the Championship was probably the best thing for his career. A year in the second tier of English football seemed to get the best out of him and he once again found the habit of getting goals from midfield, something which he continued on their return to the top flight last season. It did some as a bit of a surprise to see him drop back down to the Championship, but when you consider the long contract and the big wages he was offered, combined with West Ham’s probability of promotion, it was probably the right decision for Nolan as it will almost certainly be the last big move of his career.
STR: Finally, who will finish in the top 4? Who will go down?
CM: My predictions for this season are: 1. Manchester United, 2. Liverpool, 3. Chelsea and 4. Manchester City. 18. Wigan Athletic, 19. Swansea City and 20. Norwich City.
STR: Liverpool?? Hmm. We’ll see. Cheers Chris.