There is just enough light on the horizon for Keith Hill to be backed in the January window – but the players he brings in over the next few weeks need to have a very particular skill set, to coin a famous film quote.
Seventeen points separate Bolton and MK Dons in the final safety position, and the Whites have three games in hand.
Survival is a very, very slim possibility but if it is to be achieved then I think the manager needs to adopt a short-term approach.
Hill and David Flitcroft have grand plans for Wanderers which tie in with what the club’s new owners are looking to achieve. They are based around improving local links, investing in the academy, moving towards a self-sufficiency that Bolton hasn’t had for decades. All very worthy sentiments but are they practical in the right-here, right-now world of a survival battle?
The answer is no. Wanderers need fighters if they are going to get out of the bottom three.
It was hard to say goodbye to Thibaud Verlinden, a player I have greatly enjoyed watching since he came in from Stoke City. He has the technical tools to go and be a very good player but Hill clearly felt he lacked the physical capability to affect games for 90 minutes.
Only four of his 12 starts for Bolton in League One went the distance. Plenty of fans would have liked to see him play more – but there was something in the manager’s mind that held him back.
Likewise, Liam Bridcutt. The midfielder has had some desperately bad luck with injuries since signing on loan from Nottingham Forest and were he to be fully fit he would be exactly the kind of character Bolton need between now and May.
But if there are concerns over the player’s fitness, can Hill really afford to gamble?
Will Buckley falls into the same category. He could do nothing about the hairline fracture which has ruled him out since October. Now back in contention, Hill must be absolutely sure he can hang his hat on the 30-year-old if he is to get another deal.
Every single professional on the 23-man rota must be able to start games in the second half of the campaign. This cannot be – to use the manager’s phrase – an “all-inclusive” holiday camp.
Wanderers are operating under extreme conditions in the transfer market. And if there is a semblance of doubt in Hill’s mind about any name on that list, it might be that efforts are made to move them on, whether it opens him up to criticism or not.
The Bolton boss does not strike me as someone who will shy away from a potentially unpopular decision. And if he is to make space to bring in more robust, experienced, or tactically suitable players for the final 23 games then he might just have to put those principles to one side and make those choices based on what is happening right now, rather than in the future.
All the while we wait for the results of another disciplinary committee to be published, and whether those results will lead to another appeal, and more legal wrangling. I sense whatever verdict is reached we have not heard the last of it.
Wanderers can do nothing but get on with things. They wiped out the 12-point deduction slightly ahead of schedule and have added seven ‘plus points’ since. The return over the festive period was just below par, in my opinion, albeit the red cards for Jason Lowe and Luke Murphy damaged chances of victory against Shrewsbury and Burton.
The next two away games now become hugely important. If Bolton can grab points at Rochdale and Lincoln and assemble a tougher squad over the course of the next fortnight, that impossible dream is still very much on.
As things stand, I make it that only 13 of the 23 professionals in the Bolton squad are available for selection at Spotland and Sincil Bank, whether that be because of injury or contract. That adds up to a very busy week, and some important calls to be made.