Last week, Bolton Wanderers’ relegation from the Championship was confirmed. It brought to and end a dismal campaign for a club that until recently had been punching well above its weight in the Premier League.
The change in the club’s fortunes has been stark and represents a stark fall from grace after their relegation from the Premier League in 2012. Since then the club has suffered from crippling debts, winding up orders, and the ignominy of having to rely on a 38-year-old Emile Heskey for goals.
The 2015-16 season saw the building pressures on the club take their full effect, and they currently sit bottom of the table with just four wins from 41 games so far. This dreadful form saw manager Neil Lennon, formerly of Celtic, relieved of his duties in mid-March. Since then, form has largely stayed the same, leading up to their inevitable relegation following defeat against promotion-chasing Derby County.
So now, with the club facing their first season in the third tier of English football since 1993, attention has turned to finding the man to bring Bolton back up to the second tier.
Given that the job has been vacant for nearly a month already, clearly Bolton are taking their time to make sure that the man they get is the right one for the club.
At the time of writing, Northampton Town boss Chris Wilder is the favourite to take over at the Macron Stadium, and it is hard to argue that he would be a poor appointment considering his track record.
After having a solid but unimpressive start to his managerial career, Wilder took over at Oxford in 2008. During his time at the Kassam Stadium, Wilder took Oxford back into the Football League and turned them into a solid side that were regularly looking upwards towards promotion rather than down at the relegation places. He also ingratiated himself to the fans at Oxford by delivering a league double over arch rivals Swindon Town in the 2011-12 season.
Despite his success at Oxford, he took the seemingly risky decision to leave the club in January 2014 for relegation-threatened Northampton Town. Northampton were languishing in the relegation zone when Wilder took over, but he masterminded an impressive turn-around in form and led them to survival. The following season was one of consolidation for Northampton and Wilder, but it laid the foundations for a successful 2015-16 season.
This season, Wilder has led his Northampton side to promotion in mid-April, and they currently look good to go on and win the title as they are 12 points clear with only five games left.
With Wilder having won promotion at his last two clubs, and clearly having the ability to turn clubs that are struggling around, he looks like a good, safe bet for a club like Bolton that is desperately in need of some stability.
Question marks might be raised over Wilder’s lack of experience of managing a club of Bolton’s size and the fact that he hasn’t managed in League One before might count against him (although the step up is unlikely in reality to be too much for Wilder). Nevertheless, Wilder does not seem like a man to be phased by such challenges.
The other men still currently in the frame are Phil Brown and Kevin Nolan. Brown seems the most likely alternative to Wilder, as Nolan’s lack of experience and his uninspiring performance as Leyton Orient boss is likely to take him out of the frame. Brown has longstanding links to Bolton, having been Sam Allardyce’s assistant during the club’s Premier League glory days, as well as a spell as a player in the 1980s and 1990s.
He is also doing a very good job of rebuilding his managerial reputation at his current club Southend, having led them to promotion and making them competitive at the top of League One this year.
Bolton could do worse than appointing either of these two managers as their next boss. Both have the experience necessary to make a team at least competitive in League One, and that will likely be the very least of expectations for the club.