Bolton Wanderers had sealed promotion back to League One at the first time of asking by winning the League Two title. However, a serious lack of finances and the continuing crippling debt meant any rebuild was going to be difficult as we made the step up.
Captain Alex Baptiste, who’d been excellent in League Two, retired, and we sold backup Reiss Greenidge so we had a bit of a void at the back. I also released loads of youngsters and fringe players, which took our wage spending below £32,000-per-week, having started at more than £48,000.
I also decided to cash in a payment option we had on Rob Holding, which bagged us £4 million from Arsenal. That goes a long way towards making our finances look temporarily healthy but we’re still haemorrhaging cash due to the ongoing debt repayments.
Bringing in players good enough for League One proved to be a nightmare to the point that, by mid-July, 11 of our 22 players were teenagers! And our wage budget was £10,000-a-week lower than last season.
A bunch of youngsters from big clubs arrived, the pick of which are probably Max Robson and Kallum Cesay from Tottenham, Zak Brown from Norwich, and Iestyn Hughes from Man United, but they’re not ready for the first-team yet.
We brought in centre-back Corey Jordan on a free from Bournemouth, then loaned in Rodel Richards from Tottenham, goalkeeper Jokull Andrésson from Reading and wing-back Cole Dasilva from Gillingham. Not exactly the most exciting signings, but we do have plenty of exciting young players coming through.
Into League One
Life in League One began with a massive Lancashire hotpot of a local derby as we welcomed Wigan Athletic. And we had a near-sellout for the season opener! We conceded on the verge of half-time but kicked on in the second and Nathan Delfouneso equalised then nabbed an injury-time winner to continue his fine form at the end of the previous season.
I was impressed with a narrow 2-1 loss at huge favourites Portsmouth, then a solid 1-0 win at home to Oxford United, which saw young prospect Dennis Politic make his return after 16 months out with a cruciate injury as a substitute. That also took us to 30 games unbeaten at home!
And that particular run continued as we took on Plymouth, who’d taken seven points from three games. But Eoin Doyle rolled the clock back a year with an early brace, they responded with two goals from Virgil Gomis, but we nicked it late on as Doyle teed up Delfouneso.
A couple of defeats at leaders Peterborough and Charlton followed. But there was a real feel-good moment in our next home game against Ipswich as Politic scored for the first time since his horrendous knee injury. And that inspired the team onto a 4-0 win thanks to another Doyle double!
After seven games, we’d won all four at home and lost all three away! And, unfortunately, two away games followed. But we managed to not lose at Grimsby, albeit in a dreadful 0-0 draw, we lost 1-0 at Forest Green, then an even worse 0-0 at home to Gillingham. The goals have well and truly dried up. They continued to remain dry in yet another 0-0, this time one I was happy with as we held top of the league Derby – but had an xG of 0.07! Unbelievably, another 0-0 followed at Bradford.
Thankfully, we managed to score and avoid a club record (eight, I googled it) with a 3-2 win over Fleetwood, who somehow scored twice with two shots. And that gave us the confidence to put in a ridiculous performance in a 3-0 win at Lincoln inspired by another Doyle double, one of which racked up goalkeeper Marcin Brzozowski’s third assist in ten games!
Strong finish to 2021
A solid draw at Sunderland then a loss at MK Dons looked to be being followed by a loss at home to Coventry. But a water bottle throwing incident inspired a comeback completed by Ronan Darcy curling in an 87th-minute free-kick for his first goal of the season.
This spike in form took us up to the heady heights of sixth in League One in early November, and led to job interviews with Millwall and Swansea, the latter of which offered me a job! Two more 0-0s followed, which apparently has led to my brand of football getting its own moniker – not sure if that’s a good or bad thing!
We breezed through to the FA Cup third round with a 6-0 win over Havant but threw away leads to draw with Swindon and lose to Rochdale. But still the board were pleased enough to offer me a new £4,000-a-week contract until 2024.
We celebrated that with an excellent comeback to win 2-1 at Shrewsbury. We again conceded early and through opponents’ first shots at Burton and Wigan, and in the latter claimed the local bragging rights with another comeback to win 2-1 with a Doyle double. Then the opposite as we lost 2-1 at Oxford.
A home draw with Portsmouth then a brilliant Delfouneso double led us to a 2-1 win at home to leaders Peterborough. And that lifted us into the League One playoff positions, in sixth place on 39 points from 27 games. This is a great achievement, given most of our players, including Doyle, are only considered “good League Two players.” However, Doyle (15) and Delfouneso (12) have scored 27 of our 34 goals!
Join us next time to see where this Bolton side ends up at the end of our first season in League One.