Optimism at Bolton, pessimism at Burnley, and a baptism of fire for both clubs' new managers this weekend. While Bolton Wanderers expect their biggest crowd of the season to witness Owen Coyle's bow against Arsenal tomorrow, Burnley fans travel to Old Trafford today with trepidation ahead of Brian Laws' first match.
Both men are former players at their respective clubs, and thus begin with a degree of goodwill, but that is where the similarity appears to end. Coyle's appointment at the Reebok has rejuvenated a fan base which never took to Gary Megson and in expressing their discontent created a negative atmosphere. Conversely his departure from Turf Moor left Burnley supporters feeling betrayed and disenchanted. Coyle's subsequent replacement by Laws, so recently sacked by Sheffield Wednesday who are toiling in the Championship's relegation zone, has done little to dispel the gloom. Yet Laws, with more than 700 matches under his belt, albeit none in the top flight, is the more experienced man.
The 48-year-old is doing his best to lighten the mood at Turf Moor with his evident enthusiasm for the challenge. "I'm like a kid with a new toy," he said. "It's an honour to be given the chance to be the manager here and the club knows I will give it everything, blood, sweat and tears. It's a club I hold dear to my heart. To me it's like coming back home. My daughter was born here, I got married here, I had a wedding reception here – that's the affinity I have for this football club."
All well and good, but if the team continues to slide (Burnley are without a league win in nine games) this attachment will mean little. How difficult Laws' task is was underlined when they withdrew yesterday from negotiations with Sheffield United defender Matthew Kilgallon. The club "were not prepared to meet the agent's excessive wage demands for his player".
Laws needed Kilgallon because he is without two, possibly three, centre-halves. André Bikey is at the Africa Cup of Nations, Steven Caldwell is injured and Clarke Carlisle struggling with a side strain. Just what a new manager needs as he goes to the champions. Laws, though, exudes positivity. "You couldn't ask for a better game – Manchester United away."
In a way he is right. No one expects Burnley to get anything, so even a narrow, hard-fought defeat will be seen as a promising start. But there is also the danger that Burnley, with one point from 10 away games, and 31 goals conceded, could receive a hammering.
Laws claims an upset to match Burnley's opening week defeat of United is more likely. "There's an air of confidence in our camp and the pressure has totally transferred on to Manchester United," he said. "They are having a sticky moment and this may be a good time to play them. We will go there with no fear and they will be very wary about whether Burnley will do the double over them.
"Burnley deserved the result at the start of the season and the whole country was delighted. It gave a realism back to football and this was what Burnley had been waiting for for 30 years. There's no reason why they can't go and do it again."
Ten miles south Coyle was equally upbeat. "This is a game to look forward to against a team that is the role model for any young manager," he said. "I am a big admirer of the way Arsène Wenger has built that club and their style of play. But I still believe we can test Arsenal."
Like Laws, Coyle stressed his links to his new club. "I feel privileged to be Bolton's manager and excited about what lies ahead," he said. "It will be emotional and I will feel a sense of pride."
Bolton will go above Burnley for the first time this season, should they win and their rivals fail to do so. With two games in hand, and deeper pockets, the odds are that they would remain higher placed. Laws admits many fans have questioned his appointment. If he can prevent that scenario, and retain Burnley's exalted status, he will have answered their doubts.Reuse content