"It was the right job at the wrong time" - Hill has no regrets on Wanderers jobKeith Hill has absolutely no regrets over taking on the Wanderers job even though he admits relegation from League One was a near-certainty when he arrived.
The former Whites boss parted ways with Bolton in June after less than a year in charge and with four-tier football confirmed for only the second time in the club’s history.
Hill’s reign had started brightly, with a hastily assembled squad overturning the 12-point penalty they had been given by the EFL for going into administration by late November.
Injuries and inconsistency effectively snuffed out any hopes of survival by the end of the year, however, and when Bolton’s owners, Football Ventures, decided upon a new recruitment model led by incoming head of football operations, Tobias Phoenix, Hill’s remaining months proved unhappy ones.
Speaking for the first time about his Wanderers experience, Hill maintains the job he did should be put into context with the club’s state post-administration.
“It was the right job at the wrong time, 100 per cent,” he said, on BBC Radio Manchester. “Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I have no regrets over taking that job. I am a proud Boltonian and very proud of the way I was brought up by a Bolton mum and dad.
“I was trying to represent the fans and I thought they understood the dire situation we were in and the big decisions we were trying to make. We were trying to weed the garden and make sure that this season was clean going into a promotion season.”
Hill had purported the ‘Impossible Dream’ of survival on his arrival with fellow Boltonian, David Flitcroft, and picked up a team which had minus 11 points, with five games played.
Looking back, he maintains the chances of staying in the division were minute.
“It was difficult,” he said. “It was always going to be difficult and I thought everybody knew that – all the planning and the preparation was to go in the successes of this season.
“I mean, you would have had to been a very, very brave gambler to have bet against Bolton being relegated last season, so we always thought we were going in there, making some really difficult decision, to make sure that this season was clean and ready-prepared for a promotion tilt back into League One.”
Wanderers were eventually relegated in 23rd place with five wins from their 34 games before the division was halted for lockdown and positions eventually decided on points per game.
Hill is confident that he would have been able to lead the club back from League Two – but conceded that there was a mood within the boardroom from January onwards that he was not going to be given the opportunity.
“That was what we were thinking, 100 per cent,” he said. “We delivered a plan and unfortunately plans change. The people who employed us got convinced there was a better way to do things and it became a very frustrating situation to be in once the year turned into 2020.
“But regrets? No. I have got to thank all the players who worked on my behalf trying to change, trying to make the most out of the game that we had remaining to get into positive points. To deal with the injuries that we had and, again, trying to improve, those players were magnificent and it’s so great to see some of them – like Jake Wright, Adam Chicksen – getting new clubs, Jason Lowe – who was an absolutely superb stalwart for Bolton under me – Liam Bridcutt, Josh Emmanuel, those players who I thought served me well, get another opportunity to be successful in this wonderful game that we all enjoy.”
Hill had rode into town with Flitcroft under the ‘Made in Bolton’ banner to great acclaim, as Wanderers had freshly been bought out of administration by Football Ventures and had taken a step away from the cliff they had threatened to drop off.
Reality struck quickly. And though the management team tried to keep optimism high, the practicality of assembling a squad in such quick time quickly started to work against them.
Pointing to a goalless draw against Blackpool in October, Hill says the loss of influential players dealt a blow from which the team failed to recover.
“After the Blackpool game, within a matter of weeks, we’d lost Jack Hobbs, Liam Bridcutt – players who were really influential on the training pitch, they were leaders,” he said.
“Michael Appleton has been talking this week about Bridcutt – what a player – and an influence on the younger players, he demands a certain standard. Jack Hobbs and Ali Crawford did as well.
“And then once those two got injured it became really difficult getting results and actually promoting better performances on the training pitch. The leaders we had on the training pitch were changing the whole identity, they were no longer on the training pitch.
“We still enjoyed it, we still tried to get the most out of the group of players, and it’s water under the bridge now.”
Even before his first competitive game – a 6-1 hammering at Rotherham United which really brought home the size of the challenge ahead – Hill said problems had begun to emerge.
“You always have to try and compromise but again I keep going back to week one,” he said. “It was brilliant on the training pitch, everyone was enthusiastic, we got new players in, they could see that players were invigorated with a new enthusiasm. We had a great week with a bounce match on the stadium pitch on the Saturday leading into the Rotherham game and that Saturday night we lost Joe Bunney because of a serious car accident.
“The Friday before we played Rotherham Chris O’Grady dislocated his knee and Will Buckley fell ill. So straight away all our planning had gone up in the air once again. That was indicative of what went wrong.
“The small things kept going wrong on the training pitch and it was very unfortunate but on recruitment, we were trying to be as measured as we could in the space of not even 48 hours.
“There were key ingredients in there – Jack Hobbs and Liam Bridcutt was a big one to recruit having retained the likes of Jason Lowe.”
Wanderers embarked on another bout of wholesale squad changes over the summer, albeit stretched across a greater length of time.
A total of 18 new faces leaves the squad almost unrecognisable from the one Hill left behind.
“There has been a lot of recruitment,” he said. “It wasn’t mine, it’s Ian Evatt and Tobias Phoenix’s plan.
“The players who were retained of those out of contract were Ronan Darcy and Ali Crawford and they were two players we were actively trying to sign anyway.”
Hill has spent very little time out of management since first taking the reins at Rochdale in 2006, also enjoying a spell at Barnsley sandwiched between his two at Spotland.
He is keen to return despite his time at Bolton not going according to plan.
“I have been fortunate,” he said. “Football has served me well and I’ve served football well as a player and a manager. I’m not a big spender and I don’t get myself into any debt, so I’m more than comfortable taking my time, enjoying my football, enjoying life in general. But I do want to get back into it as I love the game of football and I do have a lot to offer.”[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]