Outflanked Bolton need to fight their corner
The moment a manager begins to openly criticise his players usually signals the beginning of the end, but it can also be a measure of the depths to which a club has already fallen.
Bolton boss Owen Coyle is widely respected, but when he highlighted his team's mistakes after the 2-1 defeat by Aston Villa last Saturday it showed a manager who wanted to provoke a response having seemingly tried everything to turn his side's fortunes around.
The 45-year-old Scot is renowned for his infectious enthusiasm, although even that must be wearing a little thin after losing 12 out of 15 Premier League games this season to leave his side bottom of the table.
Only two teams have suffered a worse start to a top-flight season, and among just nine sides to have lost 12 or more times after 15 games, only one has avoided relegation.
So with the Trotters travelling to Fulham on Saturday before a local derby of seismic proportions against fellow strugglers Blackburn the following Tuesday, it is no exaggeration to say the two games will probably decide Coyle's future.
Many observers have noted that Bolton lack the firepower that Chelsea loanee Daniel Sturridge and the now departed Johan Elmander gave them last season.
However, while it is true that nine of the team's 20 goals this season came in two wins over QPR and Stoke, they are scoring at a rate that has dropped only marginally, from 1.4 goals per game last term to 1.3 this.
Their real difficulties have come in defence - the worst in the Premier League - but centre-back Gary Cahill probably already knew that. His form has mirrored Bolton's decline at their end of the pitch and, while a summer spent having his head turned by other clubs can perhaps explain some his displays, there is no such excuse for the defence overall.
"Our problem is not in scoring goals, [it's that] we're shipping too many," said Coyle after the Villa defeat. "It's not because of wonder strikes or anything else. We need to defend better."
Where Coyle's men conceded 1.5 goals a game last season, this term it has ballooned to an average of 2.4 and they are especially vulnerable to goals that originate from wide areas.
In fact, the figures make pretty grim reading. Bolton top the Premier League charts for the most goals conceded from crosses (10) - double the number of Wigan and five times more than Swansea.
They also lead the way when it comes to letting in goals from corners, and the eight they have shipped in this manner is twice as many as Blackburn or Wigan, four times the number of Wolves and eight times more than West Brom.
Over a third of the 36 goals they have conceded are from set-pieces, too, so there are clear areas where they have let themselves down.
Injuries have undoubtedly played their part, with long-term absentees Stuart Holden and Lee Chung-yong clearly missed in a thin squad.
But the way defender Sam Ricketts described Coyle's positivity this week on BBC Radio 5 live showed that despite the club's parlous state, the training ground has not been engulfed by doom and gloom.
That attitude can only extend so far, though, and the manner in which they have conceded goals does raise questions about their preparation.
Skipper Kevin Davies said that prior to the defeat by Villa the team had been working on team shape and set-pieces yet once they allowed Marc Albrighton to convert Gabriel Agbonlahor's cross and Stiliyan Petrov to fire in from 25 yards, confidence fell away.
Indeed, the way Petrov's shot clipped Cahill before finding the corner of the net almost summed up the bad fortune that seems to have settled over the Reebok Stadium.
But complaints about bad luck will not wash with Coyle, and if he is providing the framework to address the team's problems and they are still letting him down, then perhaps you can understand his frustration towards them.
Ultimately, though, he is responsible for the players he sends out. They will now need to show the "guts and desire" Coyle is looking for while improving their concentration if they are to provide any festive cheer for their fans.
Two bad results against Fulham and Blackburn and the Christmas turkey might not taste so juicy.