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INSIDE WANDERERS: Why Parkinson won't make the same mistakes as Lennon

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Two years ago the first tiny cracks were appearing in what would eventually become a full-scale chasm at Wanderers.

Administration rumours had been viciously batted back by the club, but when The Bolton News revealed that finances had scuppered a loan deal for Wolves winger Rajiv van la Parra, little did we know what chaos was in store.

Within a few days the full mess began to unfold, including the first details of the Sports Shield takeover. A week on, Trevor Birch’s appointment underlined the seriousness of the situation.

We know the rest of the story and, touch wood, those dreadful days are long gone. But it is interesting to note the team is in exactly the same league positon, with exactly the same number of points after 16 games as it was back then.

Wanderers, under the stewardship of Neil Lennon, had gone into the international break on the back of a dour goalless draw with Bristol City. The solitary victory of the whole season had arrived 10 games earlier against Wolves. Suffice it to say, the mood was not great.

It would be another eight games before Gary Madine scored a winner against Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day, by which time events off the field had taken priority. The long, slow march towards relegation started and there was no turning back.

There is an argument to suggest Lennon’s squad was better than the one Phil Parkinson boasts today – counting individual talents like Rob Holding, Zach Clough and Mark Davies in its ranks. I am also quite sure had the financial issues not cast such a dark cloud over the club at the time, they would have had more than enough to stay safe.

The biggest mistake made at the time is that negative vibes were able to seep into the training ground. Lennon, for all his strengths as a motivator, allowed himself to get bogged down by the problems, and that transferred to his players.

The Northern Irishman was offered little protection at the time, and found himself answering questions which were way beyond the call of duty. But his relationship with key players at this time of year – when the season was still salvageable – was showing signs of strain.

That is why Parkinson is better placed to save Wanderers.

Not only has the current Bolton boss and his staff done a sterling job protecting players from the fall-out and headlines which still appear sporadically, he has done so by keeping the respect of his squad.

When results are not going well it is a rare thing in the modern game to hear no grumbling from inside the club. Support for Parkinson was as unequivocal as the statement Ken Anderson put out at the start of October and how pleasing to see since then the Whites have taken nine points and beaten two sides with promotion ambitions in Sheffield Wednesday and Norwich.

Survival looked improbable five weeks ago but not so anymore.

Wanderers have gone into each of the previous two international breaks licking their wounds and glad to get away for a few days. Last Saturday there wasn’t such a rush to get out of the door.

Players smiled, shook hands, slapped backs and joked around. Gary Madine even brought us local journalists peanut M&Ms – although this reporter never saw a single one. Not that I’m bitter.

From Monday, Parkinson’s challenge is to get the players focussed for the run into Christmas.

It is imperative to stay in touch with the sides above the relegation zone as they enter the transfer window, get a chance to sign players who can potentially make a difference and convince some coming out of contract to stay beyond next summer.

There are nine games remaining in 2017 and taking the last few years into consideration, my own personal target is another 10-12 points, which should see the Whites into 21st spot at the turn of the New Year.

Optimistic, perhaps. But considering where we were two years ago, it’s nice to fill my glass half full for a change.


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