At the turn of the millennium Bolton Wanderers were a side ready to reach the top flight. They made it to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, Worthington Cup and play-offs but lost to Aston Villa, Tranmere Rovers and Ipswich Town. A season later Sam Allardyce's boys were promoted to the Premier League after beating Preston in the play off final. Bolton's 11 year rollercoaster had just begun.
I would have to say the Sam Allardyce era was Bolton's golden spell in the Premier League and once he left his post as manager in 2007 Bolton's decline started to slowly appear. After 'Big Sam' departed in came Sammy Lee, who only won one league game in 11 matches before leaving the Trotters and was replaced by Gary Megson. In fairness Megson didn't do a bad job in the two years he was in charge at the Reebok but tensions between him and the fans was a cause of his sacking; as well as his run of only four wins from their opening 18 games in the season of 2009-10.
Then came Owen Coyle and he had a positive impact on the club after Megson. He steered Bolton to survival as they finished 14th in the 2010-11 season and an FA Cup semi-final the season after. However I think that FA Cup semi final defeat to Stoke as the huge turning point in Bolton's fortunes the Premier League.
In their first two opening seasons in the Premier League, Bolton struggled, but did survive. They finished 16th in their first season with that memorable 2-1 win away at Manchester United a particular highlight for them . They were the first team ever since the Premier League began to come from behind to win at Old Trafford. They won again the season after, but were lucky to stay in the division. They grounded out some superb results to maintain their Premier League status. Rather than a decline for Bolton, they continued to improve 2004 as they reached the League Cup final and the year after Allardyce guided them to sixth in the league which gave them qualification for the UEFA Cup for the first time in the club's history. Sam Allardyce resigned at the end of 2006-07 and in his final four seasons at the club, he recorded consecutive top ten finishes and only Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal could better them. From here Bolton's high points started to become less and less frequent.
Gary Megson had an up and down career as manager of Bolton. He just about kept their heads above water in his first season, but did take them to the last 16 of the UEFA Cup. In the 2008-09 season though, Megson branded the fans as 'pathetic' leaving the Bolton faithful on the managers back for the rest of the time he was in charge. The former West Brom manager spent a lot of money during his reign and rather than finishing in the top ten each season they flirted with relegation which the Lancashire club were not used to seeing. Megson was sacked in December 2009 and replaced two weeks later by Owen Coyle.
I thought that was a great appointment from Bolton. Coyle proved himself at Burnley and took that into his first full season in charge at the Reebok. All credit to Coyle, he brought confidence back to the squad and with that they made the FA Cup semi-final but were beaten by Stoke 5-0. After that the decline appeared once again as they went on a run of five straight defeats and from then on I don’t think Bolton were the same side that went to Wembley. At the start of this season Bolton completely reshuffled their pack as they released several players and brought in the likes of Darren Pratley, Nigel Reo-Coker and David N'Gog. With a new look squad, Bolton went on a run of one win and six defeats which was their worst start since the 1902-03 season. After a mixed run of results towards the end of the season, Bolton were relegated as they finished a point behind QPR.
As the title of this article states; it has been a slow decline for Bolton. I do believe that decline will disappear next season as Bolton were unlucky to go down this campaign. However you cannot deny that since the Allardyce days, Bolton have not been the same club which they once were.