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Have Bolton Wanderers improved in the last 12 months?

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karlypants

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Wanderers are five points better off than they were 12 months ago, but is Phil Parkinson’s squad actually stronger?

Fifteen new players have been added to the first team since the last-day escape against Nottingham Forest, and 16 have moved on to pastures new.

We look more like we belong at this level,” said Parkinson, earlier this week, when asked to compare the team which struggled so badly at the start of last season to his current crop.

Marc Iles examines the squad in greater detail and asks, is the manager right?

GOALKEEPING

BEN Alnwick has been the mainstay for Wanderers and shows little sign of relinquishing his spot as first choice.

Mark Howard was his competition last season, this time it is ex-Norwich City man Remi Matthews, who joined on a loan-to-buy deal in September.

Little was known about Matthews when he arrived from Carrow Road but he certainly impressed when Alnwick picked up a groin injury prior to the 1-0 victory against Derby County.

He may not have Howard’s experience but at 24 he is a signing with plenty of scope.

Verdict: Slight improvement. Alnwick is as consistent as ever and Matthews looks like a very capable competitor.

DEFENCE

OTHER than summer arrival Pawel Olkowski, nobody has been able to guarantee themselves a start in Parkinson’s back four (or three) over the past few months.

The David Wheater/Mark Beevers partnership has been shelved thanks to the signing of Jack Hobbs and Marc Wilson – who are upgrades on Dorian Dervite and Reece Burke. As a result, the centre-back position is arguably the most fiercely contested in the squad and a three-man defence is also an option.

Olkowski has suffered a dip in form over the last few weeks but can still be generally considered a successful signing – even if that has come at the expense of Mark Little, one of last season’s most consistent performers. Whether the Pole looks as comfortable in the wing-back position as he does as a full-back is up for debate.

On the left, the loan signing of Jonathan Grounds has not worked out thus far. When fit, Andy Taylor has been solid – but Wanderers do seem to miss Antonee Robinson’s electric pace.

The vastly-experienced Lloyd Dyer was signed as a wing-back option but has also failed to impress.

Verdict: Much better options in the middle but there are bigger questions over the full-back positions. Robinson’s pace is a big miss, and there is an argument for Little to get more of a look-in.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD

WANDERERS seemed to be collecting central midfielders like Panini stickers at one stage of the summer but the balance between creativity and defensive sturdiness has often been called into question.

Darren Pratley and Karl Henry were the two major departures, replaced by ex-Blackburn Rovers ball-winner Jason Lowe and Everton loanee Joe Williams. Both are tidier in possession and more mobile than their predecessors but there are reservations over whether they have the same street smarts.

Jem Karacan and Josh Cullen started last season as first team regulars but their lack of physicality eventually saw them drop out of contention. Wanderers fans will be hoping the same is not true of Erhun Oztumer, who offers something different on the ball and a busy style which has gone over well on the terraces.

Elsewhere in the engine room, Luke Murphy started well but has disappeared off the radar, Gary O'Neil picked up an unfortunate injury, and Josh Vela has struggled to find his best form.

Stephen Ireland could be a great addition if he gets fully fit. The jury is out on that one, for now.

Verdict: Wanderers needed to evolve from last season, and midfield is the area which has seen most change. You sense it will be better in the long run but midfield is currently looking like a work in progress.

OUT WIDE

WILL Buckley, Sammy Ameobi and Craig Noone were carried through from last season and have seen plenty of football.

Of the side which started last season, Adam Armstrong had long since left the building from the team which started last season, and Fil Morais was – more surprisingly – cut loose.

Yanic Wildschut looked a fine signing when he came in from Norwich and there have been fleeting glimpses of genius from the dynamic Dutchman, but they have been few and far between.

Noone and Buckley have worked tirelessly but also suffer from inconsistency.

Verdict: Hard to argue this area has improved. Ameobi has been a huge miss since picking up an injury in September and Parkinson has struggled to replace him.

UP FRONT

IT seems a long time since Gary Madine pulled on a Bolton shirt, unopposed in the target man position – but that’s where we were at this time last year.

Adam Le Fondre was still kicking his heels on the bench and Aaron Wilbraham had no clue what a massive part he would go on to play in Wanderers’ campaign.

Fast forward to the here and now, and the trio of Josh Magennis, Christian Doidge and Clayton Donaldson have each shown some promise but now find themselves in the midst of a serious goal drought. All three are diligent workers, as you would expect from Parkinson signings, yet the touch of quality offered by Madine, or clinical finishing of Le Fondre, are still absent, at least on a consistent basis.

Verdict: Parkinson does not have an obvious source of goals - even though Doidge would claim he has not had the opportunities to prove himself to date.

OVERALL

Parkinson’s squad is undeniably deeper and has more tactical flexibility than it did a year ago but the wholesale changes in the summer have caused their own issues. The team is still bedding down and despite that bright start the last couple of months have shown some flaws in the team’s make-up, not least in the final third of the pitch.

Should it come as a surprise? Magennis and Doidge aside, the club has still had to shop from the best available free transfers and loans in their budget.

There is still hope this group of players will be able to improve on last season’s 21st place finish, which must surely be the least expected of Parkinson and his staff. Achieving the kind of evolution in playing style fans are desperate to see, however, may be a longer-term project.

Source

Natasha Whittam

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
None of the midfielders are better than Henry, and none of the strikers are better than Le Fondre.

Poor management.

Growler


Nicolas Anelka
Nicolas Anelka
And Alf wasn't as good as Madine.One tenth of the Madine fee has been spent on the lower league strikers Magennis and Doidge and the other £5.4 million hasn't been spent on the team.
I'd say the midfield is slightly better and Olkowski makes the defence slightly better but these improvements are at the expensive of the attack which is quite a lot worse

luckyPeterpiper

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Frank Worthington
Frank Worthington
I'd say that overall we HAVE improved over last season. The problem is so has everyone else who was down around that bottom third of the table last May and the teams that came up also made some significant changes. In short we're better than we were but not as much better as we needed to be to make real headway and as both Nat and Growler have pointed out our attack looks like it's made of wet rice paper at the moment. Ameobi can't come back fast enough for me but even he can't be expected to carry this whole area alone. Perhaps though with Ameobi back in the side we'll see more from Magennis and Doige. Right now I'd say they aren't getting the sort of service from the wings especially that would let them perform their function of finishing to the best effect.

Norpig

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
The squad is better than last seasons but the performances since the surprise first 3 wins have been exactly like last season. So no we haven't improved.

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