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Phil Parkinson seeks a boost against Hull City

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
The fortunes of football managers can often change with the wind, yet for Phil Parkinson there is no denying a storm has been brewing for some time.

The Wanderers boss has been battling against the elements from the first day he set foot inside the club, be they financial, political or tactical. He has been a strong anchor when a reliable presence was needed, and even when results took a dip there has been little question of his backing from on high.

For the first time this season, however, Parkinson’s footing looks less than secure as he prepares for a visit with his former club, Hull City.

One win in 10 games has unravelled what had been a promising start to the Championship, Bolton’s best since the turn of the millennium, in fact.

The manager has had to defend himself amid criticism of a conservative style of play, not helped by the absence through injury of his most free-spirited attacking player, Sammy Ameobi.

Wholesale changes to the squad made over the summer looked to have given Parkinson a stronger hand. He was even able to make his first two cash signings in the form of Christian Doidge and Josh Magennis, but evidence suggests he is yet to find a line-up or formation which he considers his strongest. Chopping and changing has added little to the stability nor the form of the team, outclassed by Nottingham Forest on Wednesday night.

Finding the balance between his coveted defensive resolve and enough attacking prowess to appease the fans has proved a difficult task, achieved perhaps only at West Brom on the opening day of the season. An experiment with 3-5-2 at Rotherham did not work, and the lack of goals, or even shots at goal, is now bordering on the extreme.

Accusations that the team is picked at random nor properly drilled are lazy and inaccurate. Rather, the opposite may be true. Parkinson and his staff deliberate each selection in agonising detail. In doing so, there may be a case to suggest they ‘over-think’ or look first to neutralise opposition, rather than encourage an identity of their own.

Parkinson’s greatest threat may not actually be on the pitch at all. The rising number of empty seats at the University of Bolton Stadium cannot be pinned exclusively on poor results, nor the manager’s footballing ethos, but they do add a commercial pressure to the club as a whole.

Ken Anderson has talked openly about mid-table – or higher – being his target for the season. Whether the chairman’s ambition is realistic is open to debate, yet it suggests he does not anticipate another campaign scrapping against relegation.

His words yesterday, which came with a chilling reminder that he would take “whatever actions are necessary to ensure our results improve” can be fairly interpreted as a direct response to speculation over Parkinson’s future. It effectively put the manager on notice.

Yesterday saw the anniversary of Gary Megson and Dougie Freedman’s appointment at Wanderers, two managers who could empathise with Parkinson’s current battle for popularity.

Both his predecessors enjoyed a different world of financial backing, even if Freedman’s dwindled as time went on. In the end, however, their demise came only when fans started to vote with their feet.

Parkinson has battled back from a position like this before. At Aston Villa last October he braved up to questions about the security of his job after a dreadful start to the campaign which left Bolton propping up the Championship table.

Defeat at Burton Albion back in April looked to have condemned Wanderers to the drop – but, again, the manager cajoled his side into a response.

Though the critics’ voices could be heard loud and clear since the final whistle against Forest where will still be plenty of people willing Parkinson on to pull another answer out of the bag.

Widely-celebrated victories over Derby County and Birmingham City were achieved with the same formation which is currently being rallied against. There can be little argument, however, that since Ameobi limped off against QPR, with two assists and one goal from his five games thus far, that Bolton have failed to cope with his absence.

Parkinson must find a formula to beat Hull City, earning himself some more time to clear the worst of the clouds once again. He is finding out, however, that it is easier said than done on Winter Hill.


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