Trotters Talent: Part 3 – Getting Bolton Firing

We’d made a solid enough start to life in League Two with Bolton Wanderers. At the mid-way point of the season we were third and just three points off top spot.

However, our form seemed to be highly reliant on the goals of Eoin Doyle, who already had 21. And we were conceding way too many easy goals to teams’ first shots of matches. I suspect this is because our goalkeepers are absolutely awful, or I just don’t know how to use a three at the back tactic properly. Or, a bit of both!

Heading into the new year we faced the impossible with a trip to Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup third round, having knocked out Boreham Wood and Wrexham. Unsurprisingly, we lost 4-0 with Chelsea having 31 shots and Billy Crellin making 13 saves (why can’t he make saves in the league?). But that was no thanks to referee trying to give them FOUR penalties, three of which were overturned by VAR! Absolutely scandalous. More importantly, we earned £1 million in gate receipts – but the finances are still a nightmare.

Back to the league

We had a big game early in January as fifth-placed Cheltenham Town came to town. And the boys lifted their levels with a 4-0 win thanks to a Nathan Delfouneso double, a brilliant strike by Peter Kioso, and a late Ronan Darcy strike, to seal probably our best performance of the season.

That sparked us into a solid run of three wins and two draws, including a 2-0 win at Stevenage in which Delfouneso scored to round off an absolutely fantastic flowing move. We then faced three games in a week against sides in the bottom five, which started with a wasteful 2-1 win over Southend that sent us top and them bottom.

Another 4-0 win followed at home to Scunthorpe, with Delfouneso scoring twice – which saw him score in five consecutive games, seven of his last eight, and nine goals in the last eight – and a first senior league goal for young striker Bright Amoateng. But that was followed by the worst match ever in a 0-0 draw with Barrow.

We faced a tougher task as we travelled to third-placed Bradford City. A really tight game followed but we put in a superb defensive effort to repel their 14 shots, then Doyle turned home Ronan Darcy’s shot on 76 minutes for a vital winner. That moved us eight points clear at the top and 11 clear of fourth place, and sealed four consecutive clean sheets.

That ended in the next game but Delfouneso scored then played a lovely deft flick onto substitute Amoateng – who’s scored 37 in 35 for the Under 18s – to sneak a 2-1 win at Cambridge United. That inspired us onto a run of five successive wins and 14 unbeaten since the big losses at Exeter and Chelsea.

More good news was incoming as we got our youth intake, which included three players with 4.5 or 5-star potential. The pick of them is midfielder Nigel Turner, who’s not far off the first-team aged just 15.

Aiming for promotion

With nine games remaining, we were sitting pretty 11 points clear of Bradford and 15 clear of fourth place. Two big games were up next as we went to fourth-place Forest Green then hosted third-place Colchester.

Delfouneso scored early at Forest Green, but they got level just before half-time and we held on for a point. Friday night saw Colchester come to town and both sides started slowly in a terrible first half. But things exploded into life in the final 25 minutes as Delfouneso and Tom White put us two up, they pulled one back, Doyle added a third in injury time and we conceded another in the sixth minute of injury time. What a game and a massive win!

We then went to relegation-threatened Newport County and looked to be drifting to a stalemate. But left wing-back Gethin Jones curled in a beautiful goal to steal a 1-0 win that moved us four points from promotion.

Next up was Harrogate Town at home and we eased to a 2-0 win through a Sarcevic penalty and a cheeky Doyle chip for his 28th of the season. On the same day Colchester, which was enough to get us promoted!!

There was no room for celebration as we swiftly faced a trip to third-place Grimsby Town. They went ahead early, Delfouneso immediately equalised, and Ali Crawford hit a screamer to edge us a 2-1 win. And that won us the title!

Bolton Wanderers were Champions of League Two!!

There was a hangover from this as we had a mad 3-3 draw at home to Carlisle. But that was nothing compared to the madness that ensued at bottom of the league Morecambe. We went 2-0 up inside 10 minutes and 3-0 within half an hour. We let them back into it with goals either side of half-time before Delfouneso doubled his tally then academy product centre-back Harry Brockbank scored his first for the club. They got another then Delfouneso immediately made it a hat-trick and then a delicious 25-yard chip made it four! Morecambe 3-7 Bolton… and a 10.0 rating for Delfouneso. Chaos!

I threw some youngsters in for the last couple of games and Amoateng took his opportunity to impress with the equaliser in a 1-1 draw against Exeter. And we finished the season with a 2-1 loss at Crawley in which Doyle bagged his 30th goal of the year. That was our first defeat since the FA Cup game at Chelsea on 9 January and first league loss in 22 games since playing Exeter on 5 January. What a run!

That saw us finish the campaign on 97 points and 14 points clear of Bradford, with 28 wins, 13 draws and five defeats. We also had the best attack with 83 scored and the joint-best defence with 44 conceded. That resulted in a season that my performance analyst summarised as “quiet and impenetrable defensively and aggressive and clinical offensively.” The data (on the second image below) also showed that we should have scored 23 less goals, got 20 less points and finished in second, which is interesting.

Season Review

We also had the two top scorers in the league. Delfouneso’s fine end of season form saw him top the charts with 27 goals, followed by Doyle with 26. Doyle scored 30 in 50 in all competitions, which broke the Bolton club record! Delfouneso scored an impressive 29 in 39, then Antoni Sarcevic scored eight and Amoateng was our fourth-top scorer with six in 15, of which 11 were off the bench.

Sarcevic and Darcy led the way with 10 assists followed by Peter Kioso on nine and Doyle with eight. Right wing-back Jak Hickman got an impressive seven assists in 14 starts, while Crawford only got six in 40.

Delfouneso won fans’ player of the season, Doyle got goal of the season for a strike against Boreham Wood and Darcy won young player of the season.

A look around England

We were joined in promotion by Bradford and Grimsby, while Forest Green won the playoff final. Hull won League One and were joined by Bristol Rovers and Blackpool, who won the playoffs. Northampton, Wimbledon, Doncaster and Crewe got relegated.

Bournemouth won the championship seven points clear of Norwich, and Cardiff were promoted through the playoffs. Derby – who lost Wayne Rooney to Legia Warsaw – Wycombe and Coventry will join us in League One next season.

Manchester City won the Premier League with 91 points, nine clear of Liverpool. Aston Villa, Brighton and West Brom got relegated, although 15th to 19th was separated by just two points.

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