Monday 19 August 2019

Eight years on from Bayern, Bolton face drop to third tier

Manager Neil Lennon is battling to steer Bolton Wanderers out of the danger zone
Manager Neil Lennon is battling to steer Bolton Wanderers out of the danger zone

Mark Ogden

One of the design flaws of Bolton's Macron Stadium is the wind tunnel which visitors must navigate before almost stumbling into the sanctuary of the reception area of the main stand as the flags outside attempt to pull the masts from their foundations.

It pretty much blows a gale all year round outside the Macron Stadium, so it is perhaps no surprise that the football club now find themselves blown so far off course that they are bracing themselves for the very real possibility of relegation to the third tier this season.

Eight years ago this month, Kevin Davies struck an 82nd-minute equaliser to earn a 2 -2 Uefa Cup draw against Bayern Munich - a team which included Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose - in the Allianz Arena.

Tonight, Brentford visit the Macron - no longer the Reebok Stadium following a naming rights deal with the Italian sportswear brand last year - for a fixture which typifies Bolton's downward spiral.

The club are anchored to the foot of the Championship with just one win in all competitions this season.

Manager Neil Lennon is battling to steer the team to safety at the same time as the reclusive owner, Eddie Davies, attempts to sell up, having promised to write off more than £170m worth of loans to the club.

The road from Bayern Munich to Brentford has not been an enjoyable journey for Bolton, with former captain Kevin Davies admitting that the current state of the club is sad, but worryingly signposted.

"It's gone away from the club it used to be," Davies said. "I've been concerned for a while. From when I was there, it's gone a bit sterile. The fans don't feel part of the club any more and it's just lost its soul."

Despite the dismal run of results this season, Lennon retains the backing of the majority of those supporters who became accustomed to regular top-10 finishes in the Premier League under Sam Allardyce and who enjoyed victories against Atletico Madrid and Red Star Belgrade in Europe.

Few blame Lennon for the club's predicament, with chairman Phil Gartside, who is unable to work due to illness, the man largely in the firing line as a result of decisions made, and money spent, during his tenure.

Former Bolton forward Dean Holdsworth is leading one consortium attempting to buy the club, with Stelios Giannakopoulos, the popular Greek midfielder from the Allardyce days, involved with a rival bidder.

With Eddie Davies prepared to sell the club for £20m, having cleared a debt which stood at £172.9m in the most recent accounts, potential buyers would be buying a club with a tried and tested Premier League infrastructure, but the images on the walls of Jay Jay Okocha, Nicolas Anelka and Youri Djorkaeff will count for little if Bolton are contesting local derbies with Bury and Rochdale in League One next season.

"As the manager, you are trying to juggle a lot of eggs in one basket," Lennon said. "But primarily my main focus is on the team. I just want to concentrate on winning a game of football and get us out of the trouble we find ourselves in on the field.

"I'm a competitor and always have been. I like to win, but this team is in a position where we are struggling to get wins.

"I could rant and rave at them every week but eventually that loses its impact, so you have to do things differently at times and, again, that's part of learning for me through this period. It is not easy, but you are doing it for the greater good."

With Davies prepared to clear Bolton's debts, the club at least appears to be insulated from the financial issues that have afflicted Lancashire neighbours Blackburn and Blackpool since their relegations from the Premier League.

Trevor Birch, the insolvency specialist who as Chelsea chief executive negotiated the club's sale to Roman Abramovich, is attempting to ensure that Bolton find a new owner before the opening of the January transfer window.

"We have to trust the process and let Trevor get on with things," said Lennon. "Wiping out the debt is a great gesture by Eddie. He has put so much money into the club over the years. It looks to be a good deal. This club is potentially excellent, the infrastructure is good. It just needs some TLC and you could have a really good proposition on your hands if you wanted to take over."

Bolton cannot turn back the clock, however, so while the Bayern game remains a warm glow in the rear view mirror, the road ahead begins with getting back on course against Brentford. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Bolton v Brentford, live, Sky Sports 1, 7.45

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