Date: 26th March 2012 at 9:55am
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After the events of the last week or so, is Owen Coyle now untouchable as Bolton Wanderers manager?

Morning all. How are you doing? Are you OK? Not missing the hours sleep that the government so cruelly snatched away from you yesterday? Well, think yourself lucky. Some of us had a 5:30am start yesterday, which was actually a 4:30am start, made none the better by waiting up to watch Match of the Day coupled with a glass or two of you know what.

So, here we are, in the lull between one game and the other. In a sense, this is like the time between Christmas and New Year. Once we get the game out of the way tomorrow, whatever the outcome, life at Bolton Wanderers will start to return to a modicum of normal. Whilst Fabrice Muamba will remain at the forefront of our minds during his recovery, the majority of the press will move on, leaving us to more or less get on with it. Last on Match of the Day this Saturday? I wouldn’t bet against it.

The victory on Saturday has given us a fillip, just at the right time. Any win against local rivals is a good thing and couple that with Blackburn also being in the relegation fight and that our three points dragged them back into it and it was a good weekend.

What the result also showed is that you need to put a serious run of wins together to get out of the mire. Those helpful Liverpudlians have done us no favours with successive defeats to QPR and Wigan, and no amount of people saying ‘but they lost to us’ will make me think better of them. You don’t lose to QPR after being two goals up and you just do not lose to Wigan at home. No. Wait. Hang on…..

And this leads me to the point. It doesn’t seem two weeks ago that Phil Gartside was on BBC Manchester, calling some Bolton fans ‘numpties’ and it certainly doesn’t seem less than a month ago that a growing number of fans were calling for the manager’s head. Two successive wins and a player suffering a cardiac arrest have certainly changed peoples’ opinion of Owen Coyle, but in football this can be considered to be short term thinking. Of all the relegation candidates, we have the best run in, the only tough fixture being the collective love in with Spurs for the home league fixture, whenever that is rearranged for. St Owen will be given a lot of slack over the next few weeks, but if we are relegated, there is a good chance that the grumblings will return.

There have been calls for St Owen to be given a shot at manager of the year. I think that he has performed remarkably in the past week or so, his scatter gun approach to interviews working perfectly in the situation. And he has even treated us to a look at his suit, last seen in January 2010. But managers of the year are chosen based on results or performances on the pitch, not for being an humanitarian, and given the tools at his disposal we have to remember that we are but one point off the relegation zone, albeit with a game in hand and an away fixture at an imploding Wolves to come at the weekend.

It is true that what happened to Fabrice Muamba showed that there are more important things than football in life, no matter what Bill Shankly said. But memories are shorter in football than they are in real life and, just like it only takes a second to score a goal, it only takes a couple of losses to turn the cheers into boos. What has been consistently pointed out about St Owen has been lost in the fog of the concern for Fabrice. Poor team selection, poor substitutions, poor buys (free and not so free).

I’m not saying that this will happen but one only has to look at what is happening at Liverpool, the fans starting to get on the back of Kenny Dalglish, the hero of Hillsborough, to realise that it doesn’t matter what you do in football, eventually you either move on or you get moved on. As a manager, the same frailties remain in Owen Coyle’s make up. The fact that his player is lying in a hospital bed will not have given him a Damascene change of mind of what he thinks is right or thinks is wrong.

In playing terms, it has given him one less midfield player to choose from, in a season where we have been unlucky in that our better midfield players have been missing. Fabrice’s collapse means that he no longer has a choice to make. The central midfield will line up Reo-Coker, Pratley, Mavies for the rest of the season. If one of them suffers any kind of injury, a wide player will have to be shuffled into the middle or, God forbid, the Tim Ream experiment may be tried again. The margins are that tight.

If the above is the case, we may find ourselves going into the last game needing something. The last game is at Stoke. Whilst they may be on their holidays, as they were last season against Wigan, you just don’t now what you are going to get there. Better teams than Bolton have gone there and come away with nothing and I wouldn’t fancy our chances if we need to get something there to survive.

This all leads us back to the manager and how he and his troops will cope over the next few weeks. The huddle after the game on Saturday showed a togetherness that has long been spoke of but never seen previously. I have spoken before of players heading directly down the tunnel whether it be win, lose or draw. The tragedy that brought this action at the end of the match should be replicated for the remaining four games. We are all in this together and it is for St Owen to remind the players of that. Whether or not it will be enough remains to be seen.

Owen Coyle, for all the talk of ‘Judas’ by our friends in the north, is a good man. He has proved that since the events at White Hart Lane and for his actions in the past week or so he will always be remembered in the hearts of Bolton Wanderers fans. But the game itself is a results based business. For all the talk of missing players, bad starts to the season and hard runs, it remains just that. For how much longer St Owen remains on the Bolton Wanderers bench will not be tied to the recovery of Fabrice Muamba.

 

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