The four point plan for Keith Hill and David Flitcroft at Bolton Wanderers

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 02 September 2019, 13:41

Bolton Wanderers is no easy gig.

In romantic terms, new manager Keith Hill and assistant David Flitcroft are taking over at a historic club, a former FA Cup winner, a former Premier League outfit with a passionate fanbase, who are rejuvenated by the recent takeover form Football Ventures.

There are though realities of taking this job that are perhaps more sobering.

The Trotters are 15 points adrift of safety due to a 12-point deduction and their financial position has changed within only five days of the window closing; with no signings before deadline day, they are shopping for almost their whole summer on one day.

For those reasons, this season is most likely a write-off.

The challenge for Hill and Flitcroft this season, therefore, is not necessarily to keep Bolton up, but to earn the respect of natives, to prove that they are the men to lead the club forward long-term and to build some optimism for a promotion push in League Two in 2020-21.

How do they do that? This is what we think...

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Given the recent financial problems Wanderers have encountered, it seems surprising that we would agree with the club’s reported interest in Stephen Dawson, an injury-prone 33-year-old.

However, Bolton will not have brought in a whole squad of senior pros on this one deadline day, so it is important that they at least take their opportunity to sign players with very strong leadership qualities.

Dawson will be desperate for offers, having been forced to sell his house due to the heart-breaking problems at nearby Bury.

The driven Dubliner enforces high standards in the group, he is a tough tackler, he always has a rapport with his own fans and, in some ways an even more positive sign is that he can often be unpopular with supporters of the opposition.

Whenever Dawson has played at the Den, for example, he has received a lot of abuse from Millwall fans and, to a certain extent, that is a back-handed compliment because it means they see him as a threat.

Although there is an honest work ethic about some of the current Bolton players, it is understandable that as a group of teenagers, few have quite the same drive as Dawson, so bringing in the veteran would be a huge help – as would a deal for Liam Bridcutt, who could offer similar ball-winning ability.

Jake Wright, meanwhile, was a key leader behind Oxford United’s League Two promotion in 2015-16 and would bring much-needed organisational nous to this youthful back-line; he would act as a mentor for the talented but unpolished centre-back Yoan Zouma.

Use the academy

Although the takeover of Football Ventures means Bolton are now able to be active in the market, it would be wrong of us to dismiss the challenges they face to get back on an even keel.

The debt the club was in still exists and we do not know exactly how deep the new owners’ pockets might be – for that reason, caution should be advised.

Perhaps, a big factor behind the appointment of Hill is his record of developing young players.

When Rochdale won promotion from League Two in 2013-14, they had a core of players in Jamie Allen, Joe Rafferty and Scott Hogan who had initially come through the club’s academy, then later Callum Camps and Andy Cannon came through in the three consecutive top half finishes in League One.

The likes of Harry Brockbank, who has impressed at right-back in the circumstances and right-winger Dennis Politic, could really benefit from playing under Hill.

Nurture talent

Hill showed the ability to nurture non-academy graduates, too.

For example, part of the reason Jack O’Connell is now a Premier League centre-back at Sheffield United is because he left Blackburn Rovers as a teenager and gained first team football as a teenager, under Hill’s guidance.

The 50-year-old can also help talented players who may have somewhat fallen by the wayside, like Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Peter Vincenti.

With Erhun Oztumer now at Charlton, it's important that Bolton add some proven quality in the attacking midfield area to give their attacks a bit more direction and supplement the raw energy a lot of the youngsters are likely to provide.

Lift the mood

Perhaps more important for Bolton this season than the results, is the connection between club and supporters.

It helps, in many ways, by having so many local people representing the club and Flitcroft is a Wanderers fan by birth.

Essentially, this means that supporters see many of those in the boardroom, in the dug-out and on the pitch as one of them – they therefore feel that they are more likely to share their interests.

Harnessing that bond will be key to pulling the club through the tough times that they are likely to experience for the remainder of this campaign.

Take Paul Lambert at Ipswich, for example.

When he first came in, he held meetings with supporters’ groups, he interacted with fans and always showed his appreciation for them which they reciprocated.

Although Ipswich finished bottom under Lambert last season, fans remained onside which is a huge part of why they have been able to get this season’s promotion push off the ground so early.

Hill and Flitcroft need to do something similar at Bolton – and their appointments represent a clear step in the right direction.

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
16th February
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