This campaign was never going to be an easy one for Bolton Wanderers, was it?
Having been handed a 12-point deduction at the start of the season for entering administration just a few months earlier, those same problems that had led to that slide towards financial oblivion, meant that the club had to rely largely on players from their youth squad for the first month of the campaign, in the absence of any more than a handful of senior professionals.
That left them playing one of football’s biggest ever games of catch up in a bid to avoid a second-straight relegation, with the question of whether or not they would even be there to compete in any league next season.
But after an eleventh-hour takeover in late August saved the club from expulsion from the Football League, and a possible end to its existence, Wanderers were able to take advantage of the extension to the transfer window to put together some semblance of a squad.
On the final day of the summer transfer window, the Trotters were able to bring in no fewer than nine senior players – many on short-term deals through until January – to at least give them a foundation on which to build some sort of campaign.
However, even then, it seemed as though Bolton’s luck was going to be out on the pitch as well as off it, as a raft of injuries began to hit the squad that meant even with the recruitment of almost a whole lineup’s worth of senior options, the starting XIs named by recently appointed manager Keith Hill still had something of a makeshift feel to them, and it seems no outfield player was without their setbacks.
So far this season, Bolton have played a total of 34 league games in their desperate battle to avoid relegation from League One, although only goalkeeper Remi Matthews has featured in at least 30 of those games.
Indeed, you feel that even with ten games of their league season still to be played, Bolton’s 21 point deficit to safety means they will surely already wondering “what if” had they had some of those who rapidly emerged as key players for the club, available for a more significant part of the season.
Liam Bridcutt, who was made captain by Hill almost immediately after his arrival on loan from Nottingham Forest, and Thibaud Verlinden, one of the club’s greater attacking threats during the first half of the season, both missing a chunk of the campaign through injury, robbing them of two key players in the centre of the park.
Furthermore, long-term injuries to the likes of the experienced Jack Hobbs and promising Preston loanee Josh Earl have restricted both to just 11 and nine league appearances respectively, forcing Hill to consistently rotate at the back, making it difficult for them to lay a solid base from which to build towards results by keeping other teams out.
Midfielder Ali Crawford meanwhile, has provided more assists in the league this season than any other Bolton players with five, despite the fact he has only been fit and available for 12 of those 34 league games.
Elsewhere, Bolton’s top scorer this season, Daryl Murphy, has topped that particular chart despite featuring only 24 times since his late-summer move from the City Ground, meaning the club’s fans may be left rueing their inability to do more earlier in the summer window, while they are unlikely to have been all that pleased with the winter window either.
With the aforementioned trio of Bridcutt, Verlinden and Earl among seven players to leave the club in January, with nine more coming in – including Tottenham loanee Anthony Georgiou, who has yet to feature due to injury, further underlining the trouble fitness issues have caused the club this season.
As a result of that second squad overhaul in the space of a few months, Hill has found himself having to build a new side not once but twice throughout the course of a campaign that was already going to be difficult enough given the circumstances in which it started.
Consequentially, Hill found himself facing the having to effectively rebuild a side twice in the same campaign, neither time with any sort of pre-season for those players coming into the club to build up some sort of understanding with one another, or indeed the tactics employed by the Bolton boss.
What that means is that Bolton were always going to be facing an uphill challenge when it came to generating the same sort of momentum as the vast majority of their League One rivals, something which will have been scuppered further during the campaign by the sheer number of injuries they were forced to deal with.
It seems therefore, that while no one expected this season to anything close to simple for Bolton, the way things have played out for the beleaguered Trotters has only made the situation even more difficult than anticipated.
With a drop into League Two for next season now seemingly inevitable, those associated with the club will undoubtedly be hoping for more luck both on and off the pitch, as they strive for a quick return to the sort of level they have become so accustomed to over the course of their recent history.