Date: 8th August 2007 at 10:19pm
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The start of the 2007-8 Premier League season is almost here and predictions of the demise of Bolton Wanderers are widespread. The loathsome Brian Woolnough, writing for the Daily Star predicts a bottom place finish for the Whites, as does the Mail`s Des Kelly, a man known primarily for being dumped by both the Daily Mirror and Carol Vorderman. Why Bolton should finish below Sunderland and Derby, promoted clubs who have struggled to recruit quality players over the summer isn`t clear, but in the booze addled brains of the tabloid hacks, there`s little that is.

The departure of Sam Allardyce is the main reason cited by those tipping the Wanderers for relegation, yet from a team with four consecutive top eight finishes behind it, there is only one player of note in Tal Ben Haim who is no longer at the club. The fact is, there are too many unknown quantities for anyone to predict Bolton`s fortunes with any certainty.

The main worries are in defence. Gerald Cid and Lubomir Michalik may become accomplished centre-backs, but at the moment they are some way from being that. At left-back, Ricardo Gardner`s injuries seem to have caught up with him and replacement JLloyd Samuel looks far from reassuring. On the other side, the much maligned Nicky Hunt remains as first choice right back, with competition from converted striker James Sinclair, a graduate from the youth academy. If a selection of those players, plus Abdoulaye Meite can form an effective back line, then Bolton may regain their reputation as a side that is difficult to beat, but the odds are that it won`t happen quickly, and patience will be needed.

In midfield things look more promising. Old dogs Ivan Campo and Gary Speed still have some life left in them and Kevin Nolan surely can`t be as bad as he was last season. There have been a number of new recruits as well, although most are unproven at Premiership level. Judging by the pre-season games, the brightest of them is Mikel Alonso, who combines an energetic presence with great vision and passing.

It is in attack that the prospects look brightest. Nicolas Anelka remains stubbornly at the Reebok, after being linked with every club in Western Europe, as does El Hadji Diouf. Ricardo Vaz Te is at last showing signs of fulfilling his obvious promise and Kevin Davies, the most under rated player in the division, will no doubt be his usual reliable self. Wingers Christian Wilhelmsson and Daniel Braaten will also give much needed width, if things go to plan.

It is the man who devised that plan, Sammy Lee, who has been the target of most attention. He is a first class coach, but an untested manager and an easy target for those who long to see the end of Bolton as a top-flight outfit. The idea of switching to a 4-4-2 formation has been received with a mixture of excitement and fear by fans. It could either play to the strengths of Lee`s attackers, expose the defence or most likely, both.

There is surely enough in the Wanderers locker room to avoid relegation, but in a transition season, a lower than mid-table finish would be no disgrace. On the other hand, Lee may take the model built by Sam Allardyce, build into it improved creativity and improve on his predecessor`s highest finish. To do so would have Messrs Woolnough and Kelly spluttering into their Lambrusco. Here`s to that


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