Bolton Wanderers had their goalkeeper to thank for keeping them in the Championship for a second season and building on that relative success was going to be hard work. Finances had improved slightly but the club is still losing money, with three years remaining on £500,000 monthly loan repayments.
The new season began with 11 players depart the club on free transfers, including regular starters Nathan Phillips, Ronan Darcy, Dennis Politic and Regan Riley. They either weren’t up to Championship standard or got ideas way above their stations and demanded ridiculous money. That left us with just 15 players in the first-team squad, including only two central midfielders.
We renewed loan deals for top scorer Ryan Cassidy full-backs Luke Matheson and Álvaro Fernandez, and joining them on loan was exciting young Aston Villa forward Louie Barry. We also signed one of last year’s loan stars Lars Dendoncker, who’s Leander’s younger brother, permanently as his Brighton contract expired. Another loanee arrived in brilliantly named centre-back Sil Swinkels from Aston Villa.
Then we made our first cash signing of the entire save – after three years! – as we snapped up Leeds midfielder Alfie McCalmont. He had a great season on loan at Salford and I think he has the potential to be a success in our midfield.
A raft of trialists arrived, despite 34-year-old Theo Walcott deciding he didn’t fancy a penniless swansong with Bolton. Some of them got snapped up and one of them, Zane Monlouis from Arsenal, looks decent and may get thrown into a starting place given our lack of options.
More excitingly, another academy product Ronnie Latapy has appeared out of nowhere to become a potential talent and alrady has 6 caps for Trinidad & Tobago. He’s one of 12 players in the first-team squad who came through the club’s academy. That includes club captain Nigel Turner, who was named in the Euro U19 Championship Dream Team and already has 81 league appearances at the age of 17!
And, that’s because I’ve decided to try and play wingers this season. This could go badly, but let’s see.
The Championship returns
The new season began with a Lancashire derby at Preston and there was no repeat of last season’s 11-goal madness. But there was one constant, as Cassidy was again our hero, poking him in the 64th-minute after nice play between Turner and Josh Cullen, who we’re turning into a left winger.
Another great performance followed in our first home game against Barnsley, with that man Cassy Wassy opening the scoring. And we kicked on after the break with youngster Latapy creating an own goal then Cassidy doubling his tally late on with a goal created by academy product debutant Trevor Weller. Two games, six points, none conceded, and second in the league!
The dream start continued as Cassidy again decided a 1-0 win at Wycombe, with a delicious first-time finish from a Swinkels long ball. And that meant this happened. Things I didn’t expect after three years in the job!
A much bigger test followed at home to Watford, who had a front four of Benrahma, Eze, Joao Pedro and Bamford. No wonder they allowed Cassidy to come to us! But they offered absolutely nothing in a game with zero highlights. The amazing start continued with a 3-0 win at home to QPR, with Cassidy making up for missing tee game with his parent club with another brace. And he’s now the top scorer in the league. That took us to six straight clean sheets to start the season (including a 1-0 win at Salford in the Carabao Cup), but ended as an injury-depleted side lost 3-0 at Huddersfield.
That brought on the inevitable losing streak as we considered three in the next two games at Newcastle in the cup then Reading in the league.
However, it’s worth noting that we still have by far the lowest wage expenditure in the league. We’re spending £56,000-per-week on wages, while the next lowest is Wycombe’s £93,000 and Portsmouth’s £135,000. The likes of Bournemouth and Burnley are paying a massive £1 million. While other teams in the league spent a cool £370 million between them, and we spent £80,000 on one player…
Pushing into mid-season
We arrested the streak of defeats with a 0-0 at home to Derby and were unlucky to lose 2-1 at Brentford, in which Monlouis scored his first Bolton goal. The winless run looked to be continuing when Birmingham dominated us in the first half, but McCalmont’s first for the club and a late Cassidy goal turned the game on its head. And we managed “the impossible” with another 0-0 at Bristol City.
That took us into a first local derby of the save against Blackburn, who’d just been relegated from the Premier League, with the TV cameras in town. But the viewers would have been bored stiff by yet another 0-0. That certainly wasn’t the case next time out as Barry scored his first, second and third Bolton goals in a 3-2 win over Sheffield Wednesday.
A bit of battering in a 4-2 loss at Burnley brought us back down to earth, but it was nice to see homegrown Trotters talent Ebube Onoja score his first Championship goal. We bounced back with an absolute howitzer of a strike by another Trotters talent Turner to sneak past Swansea 1-0. That win took us half-way to the traditional 50-point mark that avoids relegation after just 15 games.
But we weren’t done there as a Cassidy double turned a deficit into three points in a 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest, then another proud Trotters Talent moment as Latapy came off the bench to bag two goals in a 3-3 draw at Cardiff despite having an xG of just 0.64 to their 1.78.
A tough start to December saw three consecutive away games, which began with a 1-0 loss at Portsmouth, then a shocking performance to lose 2-0 at 23rd-placed Bristol Rovers, but bounced back with a surprise 1-0 win at Blackpool.
This left us in 11th place in the SkyBet Championship after 20 matches, massively overachieving against our aim of battling bravely against relegation. And that led the board to offer me a new three-year contract worth £6,500-per-week, up from £4,400, which keeps me at the club until June 2026.
Surprisingly, we have a positive goal difference and sit in the top half of the league, just. But, more importantly, we are 14 points clear of relegation. Surprisingly, Bristol City are top and Bournemouth and Watford, two of the biggest spenders in the league are down in 20th and 22nd!
Jopin us next time as we push into the second half of Bolton Wanderers’ second season back in the Championship!
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