Injuries and trauma overshadowed their season, but Bolton will fight together to stay in the league, writes Richard Jolly
Bolton are a united team
Owen Coyle exuded optimism. "We will have more success at Bolton Wanderers, of that I'm convinced," the manager said. Success and Bolton Wanderers have rarely been mentioned in the same sentence during a season of 22 defeats, 75 goals conceded and a mere 35 points accumulated in 37 games.
Success now would be for Bolton to beat Stoke City today while Queens Park Rangers lose to Manchester City, meaning Wanderers pull off a great escape. It is "D-Day", as Sam Ricketts put it.
"We all know the consequences of failure," the defender said. They include a loss of their Premier League status, a vertiginous drop in income and an exodus from the Reebok Stadium. Three of Coyle's squad are on loan, a further 11, including Ricketts, out of contract this summer.
"In your quiet moments, you think about the consequences of either outcome," the Wales international said. "You keep looking at the positives but there are serious consequences if it goes the other way."
This is a club that is more than £100 million (Dh590m) in debt even though, as it is owed to owner Eddie Davies, it is soft debt. Coyle is aiming to restructure the club, to reduce both the wage bill and the average age of the squad.
"I like to look at our budget and how we can help, because I think it would be remiss of me not to," he said.
Previous managers have overspent on salaries, a mistake he is determined not to repeat.
"We've put in place a plan that will set the club up for years to come, financially and everything else, but we understand that that will be better suited and come to fruition quicker being in the Premier League."
Demotion tends to mean the departure of the better players. Bolton's plight is caused in part by the absence of arguably their two best. Between them, Stuart Holden and Chung-Yong Lee have appeared for eight minutes in the Premier League, when the South Korean came on against West Bromwich Albion last week.
"Stuart Holden and Chung-Yong Lee are top players in anybody's language, let alone Bolton Wanderers', and we can't replace that type of player," Coyle said.
It has been a season of six cruciate ligament injuries and four broken legs, according to the manager, with the defender David Wheater this week ruled out for nine months.
A patched-up team travel to the Britannia Stadium. After Fabrice Muamba's cardiac arrest and with Darren Pratley unlikely to be available, Coyle only has two central midfielders at his disposal, and neither is fully fit.
"Neither Nigel Reo-Coker nor Mark Davies have been able to train in the last two weeks," he said. "But it's a credit to them they still want to be out there playing. That's the size of the hearts these lads have got. I can't thank them enough."
Yet unity is a theme at Bolton. Whatever, and whoever, has been missing, spirit has rarely been lacking. "For what we have been through with injuries and the Fabrice incident it would be a great testament to the way everyone has stuck together if we survive," Ricketts said. "We are a close-knit club and we are still very connected with the fans. It is not us and them, everyone is together: owners, fans, management."
And players. Coyle is confident his charges are ready for the challenge. "It is a game that you should be kicking the door down to play and saying: 'Pick me, gaffer, I'm desperate to play'. When I was a player these are the games that I wanted to play in. We have players that want to do that."
Overcome Stoke and they may stay in the Premier League. Coyle said: "There is no doubt we would be set for season after season of progress but we have to win the game on Sunday: it is as simple as that."
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