Bolton took one point from the next 18. It could be said that, when it comes to his moves off the pitch, timing is not one of Scott Sellars' strong points.
Sellars admits he may have made bad decisions in his career, and, after that start at Bolton, wondered if his December transfer was another one. Now, however, as Wanderers attempt to continue their remarkable escape bid at Everton today, he is glad he moved. Not even Newcastle's stunning match at Anfield, which was the talk of training at Bolton on Thursday, could change his mind.
"I didn't think `I could be playing in that' because I wouldn't have been," he admitted in the restaurant at Burnden Park. "People say to me `what did you leave Newcastle for?' but they don't realise I wasn't playing for the first team - that's why I left."
In doing so Sellars was going against the trend. With the increase in squads and wages at the big clubs there are plenty of experienced players in the stiffs. Until recently Liverpool had the most notable collection with Paul Stewart, Nigel Clough, Mark Walters and Jan Molby on the books but off the team sheet.
"The problem at certain clubs is that the wages are so big no one can match them," Sellars said. "It is very difficult for players to take a pounds 3,000-a-week drop. At Liverpool I would think the wages are exceptional.
"For me, I want to play. I was in the reserves at Newcastle and it was driving me crazy. We played at Gateshead on Monday nights. It's an athletics stadium so there was no atmosphere. I was playing with Philippe Albert, Paul Kitson, Marc Hottiger and Pavel Srnicek and we all had the same problem. We couldn't get our heads round it at all.
"It was all right if we hadn't had a game for two or three weeks, I would be ready to play, but when it was week in, week out it was so hard to get yourself going. I wasn't enjoying it. You get kids of 17, 18, wanting to kick you. They're trying to prove a point, make their mark in their career and you can accept that, but they're getting on your nerves, you're getting kicked all over the place. The standard is never the same as the first team. I came in for a couple of first-team games and it took me until half-time to adjust to the pace. I felt exhausted.
"I had already been out with injury for a year. I'd sat there for all the games, wishing the lads all the best, and it looked like I was set for another year of that. With respect to myself, I wasn't likely to get into the team ahead of David Ginola.
"It was hardest on Saturdays, when the manager named the team and you were 15th or 16th man. I found that really difficult. You've trained all week, you're fully fit and you're raring to go. Kevin Keegan never names the team until quarter to two so you're all on tenterhooks. Then he does - and you're not involved. I'm not a young man any more [he is 30] and it got too difficult. When Bolton came in, Kevin left the decision to me.
"After the first few weeks I did wonder what I had done. I had come from a club where you went out expecting to win to a club where you were hoping to win. My confidence suffered. There is nothing worse than getting beat every week, however well or badly you play - and confidence is everything in football."
As last week's fightback against Manchester City showed, Bolton now have that elusive quality, with four wins in seven matches. The turning point, perversely, was the 6-0 home defeat to Manchester United. "We hit rock bottom then. It was a realisation of what you need to be a good team - the work-rate and the organisation as well as the ability. I think the lads thought if you went out and played you would win but it's more difficult than that in the Premier League. We had a chat where a few home truths were said and the result was a change in formation. We put one striker up and gave Sasa Curcic a free role. It has really helped us. It has made us a lot more solid at the back."
When Sellars first arrived, Bolton had two managers, Roy McFarland and Colin Todd. "I found it a funny situation. You never really knew who was manager. In football you always know where the authority lies and it was difficult with two people. I think everyone found that." There was no such doubt at Newcastle, or Blackburn or Leeds, each of whom had distinctive managers. In his second spell at Leeds an excess of midfielders led to Howard Wilkinson selling him - he admits he found Wilkinson "hard to get to know" - but there is nothing but admiration for Kenny Dalglish and Keegan.
"Kevin is the best manager I have played under for man-management and getting the most out of his players. He really made you feel like you were a good player. Kenny was deeper tactically, more likely to change things for different matches. Kevin put the onus on the players. He bought good players with good football brains and let them get on with it. We never practised any set-pieces. He just said: `You are good players, go out and do it'. But he would see things at half-time. It was really enjoyable, he gave us a lot of freedom. Training was brilliant. I got more out of that than playing for the reserves.
"Kenny is great with players. People have this perception of him as dour but with the players he is totally different, always having a laugh. I always felt he was taking the pressure off the players. He knows his football too. When he came the impact was incredible. We had heard rumours but we thought: `Oh yes, he's packed it in at Liverpool and he's going to come to Blackburn with crowds of 10,000.' Then he walked into the changing- room with Ray Harford the Saturday morning of the Plymouth game and the lads were gobsmacked. We couldn't believe it.
"He gave everyone a lift. The fans always had this belief that the club didn't want to go up, that they were happy being fifth or sixth in the First Division. Kenny's arrival gave everyone belief that the club did want to go up. Then Jack Walker became the main man and the club just took off." Yet, no sooner had they landed in the Premier Division than Sellars went back to Leeds, where he had started as an apprentice, and who were then the champions.
"Looking back, leaving Blackburn was a bad idea. I didn't think it through enough. I went because I was disappointed at the way I was being treated by Blackburn over a new contract. They were only offering two years, I wanted longer. With hindsight I can understand their view - I had never played in the top division.
"I could see Blackburn going places but Leeds had just won the championship, they were in the European Cup, they had been my first club and I wanted to prove they were wrong to sell me when I was young. It looked good. But I cannot look back with too much disappointment - they transferred me to Newcastle, where I probably had the most enjoyable time of my career. That was a great place to play football."Reuse content