Bolton Wanderers were relegated Sunday after failing to record a win against Stoke City on the final day of the season. The game was marred by controversy, as replays showed that Jonathan Walters appeared to knock the ball out of goalkeeper Adam Bogdan's hands for the Potters' first goal.
Bolton spent a lot of time in and around the relegation zone all season long - a 6 match losing streak after an opening day win ensured that - but this wasn't supposed to happen to this team. In 2010-11, Wanderers finished 14th with 46 points and 10th in both goals scored and goals allowed. Not many expected that Bolton would fall backwards so quickly and so dramatically.
There were two basic problems for Bolton Wanderers this season. The first is that they couldn't prevent goals. They achieved only 3 clean sheets, gave up just over 2 goals a game, and lost a whopping 8 matches by 3 or more goals. One of the major plotlines of the season was the play of Bogdan, whose fine play kept veteran Jussi Jaaskelainen glued to the bench, but the play of the back line simply had the Trotters playing on the back foot too often. A lot of the defensive struggles can be pinned on inconsistency: due to injuries in some cases and just plain uneven play in others, no Bolton defender appeared in more than 25 games. The second problem was their performance against top tier teams. Most teams that escape relegation have a signature win or two they can point to that helped them along. Queens Park Rangers beat Tottenham Hotspur down the stretch, for example, and Wigan Athletic added several skins to their wall as well. Bolton, on the other hand, were awful against top half teams, going 3-3-14. They beat Liverpool at home and Everton away. Their other "Top 10" win was an opening day victory over QPR, who were technically tied for first when the teams kicked off.
No Trotters supporter will look back at this season fondly, obviously, but there was a feel-good element to the campaign following the miraculous recovery of Fabrice Muamba, who suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch during a cup game against Spurs on March 17. Muamba's heart was stopped for 78 minutes, but he was ultimately revived and can now walk under his own power. He made an appearance at a home game on May 2, much to the delight of the crowd. Calls for perspective are often pithy and counterproductive, but surely Muamba's recovery will ultimately be seen as the bright spot shining through an otherwise dismal season.
Bolton will have their work cut out for them in the Championship. Owen Coyle will reportedly be retained, and Kevin Davies has signed a new contract, but several other players, like Jaaskelainen, Ivan Klasnic, and Paul Robinson have already left or are expected to leave. Others will surely follow, as the club is reportedly deep in debt and will be looking to cut payroll. A season of lower tier TV money is certainly not going to help matters, and with Financial Fair Play on the horizon, one gets the feeling that if they don't gain promotion right away, they could be toiling away in the Championship for quite some time. That's not an easy pill to swallow for a club that just spent 11 straight years in the Premier League, including a string of 4 years where they finished 6th, 7th, and 8th twice, but such is the reality in a world where cash equals success.
So with that, we say goodbye to one final club. Last summer, 51dimes wrote a FanPost where he identified 8 clubs that were the most likely to be relegated, according to recent trends and statistics - the three promoted clubs and five more that had been promoted in the last 5 seasons. All but one (Wolverhampton Wanderers) avoided the drop. Bolton didn't play well enough to survive the cut, so in one respect there's no question that their relegation is fair and just, but part of me is sad that a team that has been part of the fabric of the Premier League for so long is gone. Good luck in the Championship, Trotters.