BOLTON // In a managerial career that had been a swift and seamless rise to prominence, 2011 has represented Owen Coyle's annus horribilis. It began with Bolton Wanderers standing sixth and concluded with them propping up the Premier League, four points from safety.
A manager who attracted the attention of bigger clubs ends the year with his own position the subject of speculation. His standing has diminished as his club's plight has increased. Such has been the scale of Bolton's problems that a home draw against relegation rivals represented an improvement of sorts.
"We're disappointed not to get three points," said Coyle. But after losing 10 of their 11 previous home games, a point was their second best result on their own turf since April. Bolton still exited to a chorus of boos.
Indeed, a first draw anywhere since February could have been another defeat, Jussi Jaaskelainen's reflexes denying Kevin Doyle a winner before a combination of Mark Davies and the woodwork spared Tuncay an embarrassing own goal.
It was a setback nonetheless, albeit one that provided an unfortunate endorsement of Coyle's judgement.
In 2009, he had plucked Steven Fletcher from Hibernian to lead the Burnley attack in their stirring start to top-flight life. Two years later, the younger Scot has become Wolves' record buy and one of the most reliable goalscorers in the lower half of the Premier League.
So he proved when levelling for Mick McCarthy's side. "I'm delighted with him," said the former Ireland manager. "He scored the goal that matters for us."
While Fletcher's tally of eight goals is more than a third of Wolves' total, Bolton's scorer struck for the first time since March 2007.
Absent since February after rupturing his Achilles, Sam Ricketts advanced unchecked before jinking infield and bending a shot past Wayne Hennessey. "A wonderful goal," Coyle added.
Left-back has been a problem position for Bolton, largely because of Paul Robinson's defensive deficiencies.
Ricketts added an attacking thrust, but proved no more dependable at the day job. Having carved out a lead, he was culpable when Bolton lost it. As Matt Jarvis curled in a free kick, Fletcher escaped Ricketts' attentions and the striker headed in his eighth of the season.
It was reward for Wolves, for whom Stephen Ward had rattled the bar with a wonderfully clean strike from 25 yards. McCarthy nonetheless admitted his side deserved to be trailing at the break.
"At half time, I wondered if we'd turned up," he said. "We were hopeless. But it was the proverbial game of two halves."
Wolves were in the ascendant in the second period although, as McCarthy observed, it was a contest of "two teams struggling to win games".
Bolton's task could become tougher. While personal terms remain an issue, Gary Cahill is bound for Chelsea in a £7 million (Dh40m) move. "Whatever comes in the next few days, comes," Coyle said. "But Gary's not spoken to Chelsea yet."
When he does, it might be to finalise his exit. Then plugging the leaks in the Premier League's most porous defence will be still harder. Such consolation as Coyle should derive could be scant: surely 2012 can't be much worse.