When the old Division Three North and South was combined for the 1958/59 season, Wanderers had just lifted the FA Cup with Nat Lofthouse in his fearsome prime and were among the favourites for the following year’s league title.
Some 61 years on and Bolton are scrapping to stay in the third tier with all probability pointing to playing their football in League Two from August. Stripped of 12 points from the off for going into administration, some bookmakers were giving odds of 250/1 ON that they would fall into the bottom division before a ball was kicked. Those numbers have not altered much, especially after a New Year run of four defeats from their last four games.
To put the task into some context, for the last 10 years, the average number of points to finish above the relegation zone has been 48, or 1.04 points per game.
Bury’s expulsion from the league warps this year’s figures somewhat and means the total needed this time around should be lower – about 45-46, using the same principle – which would still leave Bolton requiring another 13 wins.
No club in the division’s history has ever stayed up with seven points after 24 games, and even without the EFL penalty only nine have managed it with 19. It really is an uphill challenge.
But for those looking for good omens, do not despair. We crunched the numbers on all 60 teams who have propped up the table at the 24-game mark and found that 13 escaped relegation, some by a reasonable distance.
There is also a clear trend among those clubs to improve their points return in the second half of the campaign. After 24 games, which is where Bolton currently stand, just eight of the 60 took fewer points from their remaining 22 fixtures.
Wanderers’ life is made that bit tougher with the fact they have just 20 games remaining and 60 points up for grabs. If they are to get safe they will need the sort of points swing gained by Huddersfield Town in the 1992/93 season – another year recalled fondly by those of a Bolton persuasion.
Bruce Rioch began his first season at Burnden Park with a visit from the Terriers, who were at that stage considered one of the favourites for promotion.
Beaten play-off finalists the year before, they had a robust attack with the likes of Iwan Robers, Phil Starbuck and Iffy Onuora, the highly-rated Chris Marsden in midfield and a young Simon Charlton at left-back.
Ian Ross’s side made a wretched start, however, and after Julian Darby and Andy Walker sent them home empty-handed on the opening day they won just three of their first 22 league games. Huddersfield were rock bottom by the time they welcomed Bolton to Leeds Road the following February for a 1-1 draw that briefly lifted them off the foot of the table.
The appointment of Mick Buxton as assistant manager is credited for a turnaround in for which saw them rocket up the league to 15th – winning 12 of the last 16 games of the season to finish on 60 points – 13 points clear of the relegation zone.
The campaign is remembered more by Terriers fans for the poor start than the strong finish, even if it is one that Hill would gladly accept.
A year earlier Chester City – then playing at Macclesfield – had beaten Fulham on the opening day of the season but slumped to the foot of the table by Christmas and had taken just 13 points from their first 24 games.
The turning point coincided with a visit to Burnden for a goalless draw on February 8, 1992. Chester went on to lose only four of their last 22 games and finished five points clear of trouble.
Back in the days of two points for a win, Mansfield had an identical record to Wanderers in the 1975/76 season at this stage, with four wins and seven draws. Thanks largely to the goals of Ray Clarke, they went on a wonderful late run to remain unbeaten for their last 19 games, finishing 11th and eight points clear of trouble.
Preston North End also completed a remarkable dash for safety under Alan Kelly in the third tier in 1983.
Gordon Lee was sacked in December with the club bottom of the division by some distance but the Lillywhites ended up winning nine of their last 13 games finish up 16th - a full five points off the bottom four.
Burnley were heading for relegation in 1997/98, Chris Waddle’s only full season in charge at Turf Moor. They had 21 points after 24 games but won six out of seven in uary to start their charge to safety.
Despite the upturn in form, which saw them drag 11 points back on the sides above them, the Clarets still needed a last-day win at Plymouth, courtesy of two goals from Andy Cooke, to send Brentford down in their place.
In 2010/11, the decision to sack Chris Hutchings and replace him with Dean Smith proved pivotal in Walsall’s great escape from relegation. After winning just three of their opening 16 games the Saddlers were preparing for life in League Two. But a 6-1 victory against Bristol Rovers on January 29 proved the catalyst for a fine run, and another six victories were put on the board to climb into 20th spot.
Walsall’s fate was also aided, it must be said, by a 10-point punishment for Plymouth Argyle for going into administration which dragged them into the bottom four.
Notts County were bottom of the table as late as March 16 and still seven points from safety, with all of their relegation rivals possessing at least one game in hand.
Shaun Derry asked Bolton to loan Josh Vela – who would partner a teenage Jack Grealish in the heart of midfield – and the Magpies went on to win six of their last nine games to ensure safety on the last day.
Another former Wanderer, John Sheridan, worked his magic at Oldham in 2016/17 to rescue a desperate situation. Bottom of the table on his arrival on January 12 he inched the club out of the bottom four over the next three months, taking 34 points from the last 22 games to finish 17th.
A decisive result was gained against Bolton at Boundary Park. Playing the last 25 minutes with 10 men and leading through Lee Unwin’s goal, the Latics held on for a win that briefly threatened to spoil the promotion party for their opponents.
If nothing else, Wanderers need to give their fans something to cheer in the closing months of the season.
There are plenty of things working against them – the terms of the transfer embargo restrict them to 23 professional contracts and prevent them from paying for players in the transfer window.
They have three games in hand on some of their relegation rivals but the fixtures postponed earlier in the season have been sandwiched into an already-busy New Year run, and avoiding injuries is an absolute must if they are to stand any chance of keeping in touch.
History has thrown up some memorable great escapes and Wanderers have some shining examples in their recent history.
Nobody will forget Big Sam and Jay Jay dancing on the pitch after beating Middlesbrough to stay among the Premier League elite in 2003.
Gary Megson surprised everyone by leading Bolton to Premier League safety in 2008, courtesy of some pricey January transfers.
And the drama of Aaron Wilbraham's last-gasp goal against Nottingham Forest to keep the club in the Championship in 2018 will live long in the memory.
But should Hill and his team complete this one, it might just top the lot.
[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]