Owen Coyle attracted a lot of praise and hype last season for apparently transforming Boltonfrom long-ball merchants into an attractive and aesthetically pleasing outfit. However, with Bolton now registering just one win from their opening four games and with the club having lost eight of their last nine Premier League games, are the wheels beginning to fall off? Or to put it more pertinently, are we all guilty of buying into the Owen Coyle myth?
Last season, Bolton’s league campaign culminated in five successive defeats against the likes of Blackpool, Sunderland, Fulham, Blackburn and Man City. They were humbled at Wembley, capitulating horrendously to Stoke 5-0 and went from a side challenging for a Europa League place to one that finished in the relative obscurity of 14th place in a tightly congested mid-table. Yet, the criticism for Coyle is in short supply.
Coyle has certainly found favour on the terraces for a perceived change in the team’s style of play, which when you compare it to how the side played under his predecessor Gary Megson, was bound to be found in a positive light.
The Glaswegian-born manager stated in a recent interview with Four Four Two: “Football’s an entertainment sport. We’re all here to entertain, whether you’re at the top of the Premier League or down in the lower leagues. We can go toe-to-toe with anyone.” But are Bolton really striking that fine balance between successful and entertaining football?
Last season Bolton finished with an average of 46% possession per game, the fourth lowest in the league. Their pass completion rate came in at 67%, the third lowest in the league, which would go same way to dispelling the fallacy that this side has dispensed with an over-use of the long ball.
The amount of short passes attempted per game also came in at third lowest with just 274, ahead of only Stoke and Blackburn. With concerns to the amount of long balls attempted over the course of the campaign per game, Coyle’s Bolton resided in fourth place. While these may be raw statistics courtesy of the fantastic article on Zonal Marking about this topic, they would appear to completely fly in the face of the belief that under Coyle, Bolton have become a pass and move outfit.
They of course remain a physical, direct side which has the ability to play the ball on the floor – almost exactly as they did under the likes of Allardyce, Lee (briefly) and the much maligned Megson. All this proves is that if you tell people something enough times then some of them will at least start to believe it – a concerted PR stunt of sorts.
Admittedly Bolton do have a small squad and have been hit hard by long-term injuries to the likes of Lee and Holden in the last few months, but when does a bump in the road begin to constitute a fully-fledged crisis?
It’s quickly become clear that this term the league will be placed into three distinct groups. You have the Manchester duopoly at the top, with Chelsea trailing on their coattails. Then there is the group between 4th-10th that will comprise of the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, Everton, Stoke.