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Preview: Bolton Wanderers vs. Derby County

Sports Mole previews the opening day fixture in the Championship between Bolton Wanderers and Derby County.

The new Championship season begins this weekend, and two teams with differing targets for the campaign meet at the Macron Stadium on Saturday as Bolton Wanderers host Derby County.

The Trotters will be looking to push on into mid-table after finishing 18th last term, while Derby are expected to be among the promotion chasers after bringing in a new manager and a host of new players.

Bolton Wanderers

A general view outside the ground prior to the FA Cup Third Round match between Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic at the Macron Stadium on January 3, 2015© Getty Images

Bolton supporters have had to endure a largely frustrating three years since they dropped out of the Premier League. In that time they have become a bottom-half side rather than promotion hopefuls like many expected. They have also been forced to cut costs due to their parachute payments coming to an end.

It all means that it is hard to tell how they will get on this season. They have s group of solid Championship pros with some added quality thrown in and these players, if fit and in form, could fire the club into the top half and beyond.

However, they have failed to live up to their potential recently, hence why many observers are tipping them for a season of struggle.

Neil Lennon was appointed manager last October and was tasked with guiding them away from the bottom of the division. The former Celtic boss did just that, leading them 10 points clear of the bottom three by the end of the campaign.

The Trotters also went on an eight-match unbeaten run in the closing stages of the season, which will offer some hope to their supporters.

Pre-season form: LLLWWW

Derby County

Derby County manager Paul Clement looks on during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Northampton Town and Derby County at Sixfields Stadium on July 18, 2015© Getty Images

Derby have been installed as many people's favourites to win the Championship, and they have certainly signalled their intentions by bringing in a new manager and spending big in the transfer market this summer.

The Rams looked on course for Premier League football with 13 games to go last season as they sat at the top of the table, but just two victories from those remaining fixtures saw them plummet down the standings and finish eighth.

Head coach Steve McClaren paid the price for the slump and he was replaced by Real Madrid assistant coach Paul Clement, who has taken on his first management role at the iPro Stadium.

Clement arrived in the East Midlands with a fine reputation as a coach, but it will be interesting to see how the 41-year-old adapts to the rigours of managing in a very competitive division.

He inherited a squad full of experience and has since added the likes of Tom Ince, Jason Shackell and Andreas Weimann, which leaves them with a group of players that would be the envy of most sides in the league.

The pressure will be on them right from the off and if Clement gets off to a poor start, the fans will begin to question his credentials.

Pre-season form: LWWWDW

Team News

Tom Ince for Derby County on February 10, 2015© Getty Images

Lennon could hand debuts to summer signings Ben Amos, Derik Osede and Gary Madine. The Trotters also recently signed ex-Blackpool and Swansea City man Stephen Dobbie and former Charlton Athletic defender Lawrie Wilson on free transfers, although it remains to be seen if they will be fit enough to feature yet.

The Trotters will be without injured defender David Wheater, so Dorian Dervite could slot into the middle of the back four. Zach Clough is expected to start up top, with Madine partnering him.

Derby boss Clement has several selection dilemmas ahead of his first competitive game in charge. He has named his captain, though, with Chris Baird replacing Richard Keogh, who had been skipper for the past three seasons.

Darren Bent is fighting it out with Chris Martin to start as the lone striker, while Johnny Russell might have to settle for a place on the bench. Behind the striker, Ince, Weimann and Will Hughes are likely to offer support as attacking midfielders.

New signing Alex Pearce is likely to make his debut at centre-back alongside Keogh.

Bolton Wanderers possible starting lineup:
Amos; Vela, Dervite, Osede, Moxey; Danns, Pratley, Davies, Feeney; Clough, Madine

Derby County possible starting lineup:
Grant; Christie, Keogh, Pearce, Forsyth; Baird, Thorne; Ince, Hughes, Weimann; Bent

Head To Head

Bolton have historically enjoyed the better of it in this fixture, winning 61 times to Derby's 45, with 21 draws.

The Rams have been more successful in recent meetings, though, going unbeaten in their last five against the Trotters.

Last season they did the double over the Lancashire outfit, winning 2-0 at the Macron Stadium in September before thrashing them 4-1 at the iPro in February as Ince and Jeff Hendrick bagged braces each.

Sports Mole Logo

We say: Bolton 1-2 Derby

Neither side will want to open up the new campaign with a defeat, so expect a cagey affair in this one. Derby will be looking to lay down a marker for the season early on and they should just about have too much for Lennon's men.

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Emile Heskey (R) of Bolton in action with James Tavernier of Wigan during the FA Cup Third Round match on January 3, 2015
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