BOLTON (A); THE PREVIEW

02/11/17

In a complete about-turn compared to recent seasons City's away form has been excellent recently, so it will not be with any fear that the yellow army head north to bottom-side Bolton Wanderers. Ffion Thomas chats to Rob Latham about what we can expect.

On Halloween night Bolton were the team to hammer the nail in the coffin of Sunderland manager Simon Grayson with a 3-3 draw at the Stadium of Light. It looked like quite the thriller, but having led twice, and for a few minutes during the game lifted yourselves off the bottom of the table, are fans seeing that result as a point gained or two dropped?

You're right, it was a bit of a Halloween horror show in terms of the defending on show from both sides. It feels like a loss, given we led 1-0 and again 3-2. On one hand, I'm pleased the team showed a bit of fight to recover from 2-1 down but then to go on to lead and throw it away for the third game in a row is pretty galling. We're still stuck to the bottom of the league - and we could be 7 points away from safety if Birmingham win tonight, which is a major concern. So it's kind of difficult to work out whether a draw was a good or bad result, but personally I think it's a really important two points dropped.

Just to touch on Sunderland, it's a major surprise to see them struggling as badly as they are looking at their team on paper. You have to think that a new manager will get them sorted out, so we've probably done them a favour and ourselves a detriment in getting Grayson sacked!

I agree with you on Sunderland, they will get a bounce. Funnily enough their only win all season came at Carrow Road back in August, which remains a shocker on our part!

How are you feeling about the season as a whole so far? For a newly promoted team you had an OK start, picking up a couple of solid away points, but from the middle of August lost eight league games in a row, scoring just one goal. Since then you've gone four unbeaten, but as you say, in three of those games have had the lead and lost it - including in injury time against Fulham on Saturday. I think scoring three on Tuesday, albeit against Sunderland's defence, is a good sign - is it the view of the Bolton fans that there's something to build on now?

The season so far has gone pretty much exactly how I expected it to. I've always said that anything above last place, never mind staying up, will be an achievement, given the financial situation, being under a transfer embargo and the quality of players we have. To put it in perspective, at the start of the season we weren't allowed more than 23 players in our squad - which included not even being allowed to promote youth players to the first-team squad - and weren't allowed to sign players on more than lb4k a week - so we shouldn't really stand a chance against the big-spending sides in this league.

Up until a few weeks ago it was all looking very doom and gloom. We set a new club record for going 8 games in a row without scoring and it took us 12 games to get our first league win, but since then we're 4 unbeaten so that's certainly a positive. The fact that we've not lost and managed to score goals in those 4 games definitely gives us something to build on, but the biggest concern is our defence and specifically an inability to stop teams scoring. Fulham should have scored a hatful against us on Saturday and we managed to concede three against Sunderland. We've only kept one clean sheet in 17 games in all competitions this season, having kept 20 last season.

If we can pick up our home form then we may be able to put up a fight, but unfortunately I just don't see us having the quality to compete over a full season.

What do Bolton fans see as their club's 'rightful' position in English football, if there is such a concept? From the mid-1990s until 2012 Wanderers were a fixture either in the top tier or challenging to get into it, with four top 8 Premier League finishes and a couple of forays into Europe - I remember the famous 2-2 draw away at Bayern Munich in 2007 - but more recently have fallen into the third tier, bouncing straight back much like Norwich did a few years previously. You mention the financial problems and transfer embargo - can you realistically see a return to the Premier League happening any time in the next decade or so, or is it accepted, and expectations meted accordingly, that the club have moved into a new phase?

Wow, that's a really big question, we've been on a real rollercoaster journey over the last few decades. I grew up with Bolton well and truly in the lower reaches of English football - I remember going to watch some truly dire football at the rundown Burnden Park and watching us visit the likes of Bristol City, Walsall and Swindon Town in my early days as a fan. But then of course things began to pick up from the mid-to-late 90s and then the wonder years of the 2000s under Big Sam, with the 'Bolton Galacticos' of Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, Fernando Hierro and more coming to the club - which frankly seem like a lifetime ago.

Since then we've had our troubles financially - which are too plentiful and confusing to list here! - thanks to some pretty reckless management of the club. In many ways, as I'm sure you guys might agree, dropping into League One may work out to be a good thing in the long run, and it gave the club a bit of a wake-up call. We got new owners who have overall done a good job of getting the supporters back on board and effectively saved us from going bust, and we were lucky that we managed to bounce back at the first attempt. To answer your question, I guess I'd say that the Championship is about our 'rightful' level, but it's hard not to look back 10 years in time and think about what might have been - especially when you look at the position that our near neighbours Manchester City now find themselves in.

That's a good point - unlike us, you're not short of neighbours to compare yourselves to!

It's 20 years this year since you moved to the Reebok Stadium (now the Macron), and that pretty much maps directly on to the start of the high-flying period we're discussing. I guess the stadium is viewed as a success story then - or do some fans still pine for Burnden? Personally, I quite like it - although it's way outside Bolton itself, the transport links are good, and the design, which was particularly innovative when it opened, seems to have aged well. Norwich have played there six times, and although we lost the first four, we have enjoyed important wins in our last two visits.

20 years, that makes me feel old. I still vividly remember the first time I went to the Reebok - I still can't quite bring myself to call it the Macron - it felt like walking into a spaceship! I think fans of a certain age will always pine for the good old days of Burnden Park - the Normid superstore in one corner, the concrete terraces, and seeing unsuspecting opponents fall foul of the health and safety hazard that was a massive pit between the pitch and the stand. But realistically the Reebok was much needed and became a fortress at times when we were in the Premiership - I'm sure it still gives the likes of Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger nightmares! It still looks awesome when you see it emerge from the middle of the Lancashire countryside and it still feels fairly new, although it's much less of a fortress these days, as you allude to given Norwich's recent record against us!

Who should we be looking out for in your side on Saturday? Looking at the squad list, I didn't realise Bolton was the latest home of the evergreen Aaron Wilbraham, though it seems he's not featured much recently. Sammy Ameobi looks a potential dangerman, having been on the scoresheet in your last two games with a couple of nice finishes.

I'd say Sammy Ameobi is our biggest threat. He scored a nice goal at Fulham, he's dangerous from long range as he showed with the opener at Sunderland and with the opener in our only win against Sheffield Wednesday, so he's in good form and high on confidence. Gary Madine is much maligned for his lack of goals among many Bolton fans (hence the nickname Washing Machine) but his workrate and physical presence up top is invaluable, and Karl Henry has been vital in midfield since he arrived - it's no coincidence that we've been had a bit more fight about us with him in the side. I doubt Aaron Wilbraham will be in the squad this weekend, he's been out injured recently and when he has played this season he's looked well past it - I think he was the only striker we could convince to join us! Other threats could be down our left flank with the pace of Antonee Robinson and Adam Armstrong, who looks to be growing into his unfamiliar position of left wing.

Having lost our two home games this week, I think most Norwich fans are quite looking forward to being on the road again - certainly that's where our strongest performances have been this season. If I had to make a prediction, I'd go for a 2-1 away win to lead us into the international break, which we're desperately in need of just to rest up. How do you see the game going?

Yeah that's probably a decent shout, especially considering your away form. I'm going to retain some optimism and go for a 2-2 draw, that man Ameobi scoring for us again and Adam Armstrong to grab the other.


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