Can Bolton Wanderers become a top six regular under Own Coyle?

A few tweaks here and there and Coyle could see his team aiming for a top six finish next seasonBolton lie in 7th place in the Premiership table with 40 points after 30 games. Their home record is formidable – 8 wins, 5 draws, and only 2 losses in their 15 games. Take a closer look at this and the viewing is even more impressive; their only defeats have been to a late Maxi Rodriguez goal, and a formidable Chelsea side returning to peak form. They held Manchester United 2-2, massacred Spurs 4-2 and beat some of their main competitors in Aston Villa, Stoke and Everton.

Their away form is the complete mirror image, with 2 wins, 5 draws and 8 losses so far. The only wins were 3-1 at West Ham and 3-2 away to Wolves. They will feel unlucky after good performances against the top teams, losing to controversial goals from Joe Cole, Florent Malouda and a late finish from Dimitar Berbatov, but simply put, there is no consistency to their away performances. For every hard-earned draw at Everton or Newcastle, there are losses to Sunderland and Stoke.

This inconsistency is epitomised by their spell of play from November to February. In November, Bolton were statistically the best team in the Premier League, getting 11 points from 15 after wins over Spurs, Newcastle and Wolves, as well as draws against Everton (away) and Blackpool. Just two months later, in January, Bolton were statistically the worst team in the league, getting just one point out of 12, a solitary draw at Wigan, losing to Stoke (away), Liverpool (away) and Chelsea. Considering Wigan’s position in the table, as well as Liverpool and Chelsea troubled at the time, and Stoke being below them in the table even with the Britannia stadium’s fearsome reputation, Bolton fans could have expected anywhere between 4 and 8 points from the 12 – they were left bitterly disappointed.

Part of the reason for this inconsistency is a lack of goals. Kevin Davies is strong, powerful and pushy – the classic English centre forward. The problem for Bolton is that he isn’t a finisher, and that Johan Elmander is a very similar player. Elmander has one goal since Boxing Day, and Davies has just one since January 8th. Ivan Klasnic’s recent but short-lived good form has kept them going in both the League and the FA cup – for now. Matthew Taylor’s poor form has not helped, Mark Davies does not seem to fit in, and Martin Petrov’s inability to string together a series of good performances have all contributed to their lack of goals.

To combat this, canny Coyle signed Daniel Sturridge who scored 4 goals in his first 4 games. He has a history of promoting young and talented footballers, as shown by the signings of Jack Wilshere, Wladimir Weiss (both on loan last season), and Stuart Holden, their creative dynamo. Lee Chung-Yong provides some much needed pace and dribbling skills down the wing, and Bolton will be hoping to sign another versatile winger or forward in the summer. Potential candidates would be Matt Jarvis, who should be available for around £10million, and Liverpool’s Dani Pacheco, most likely on loan. This would fit in with Coyle’s strategy at Bolton so far in signing talented, young, and under-played players from the top clubs. Shaun Wright-Phillips and Craig Bellamy both seem out of place at their current clubs as well, and Coyle may well look into them. Defensively, Bolton seem tight, with Gretar Steinsson and Gary Cahill running a solid unit.

There is no doubt that Coyle’s strategies are working, taking a club that was in deep relegation trouble at the same point last season to just 5 points behind Liverpool. And that does ask the question, could he go one step further, and have them finish in the top 6 consistently? Realistically, the answer is no.

Though they have been good this season, too many poor results against poor teams, along with a lack of attacking options means that they are in the right area, and could well be overtaken by Everton. However, with some investment in quality attacking players and a little bit of luck that they have missed this season, Bolton could definitely push the top 6 very close.

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