Bolton Wanderers had survived in the Championship for two seasons, including a strong top half finish in 2023/24. But finances were a still major issue, with two years remaining on the £500,000 monthly director’s loan repayments.
The summer break began by completing my Continental Pro License and being offered interviews by Premier League clubs Everton and Leeds. But the lack of finances reared its head in affecting our negotiations with players we might want to retain, such as Josh Cullen, and basically rendered it impossible.
The first move was to secure loan deals for a third season for striker Ryan Cassidy, winger Louie Barry and full-backs Luke Matheson and Álvaro Fernandez. Our first permanent signing was versatile former Sunderland midfielder Bali Mumba, who may not look great but I think he’s the kind of useful player we need. And other than that we relied on snapping up promising youngsters released by Premier League sides.
Aston Villa had been sniffing around young talents Nigel Turner and Ronnie Latapy for a while, putting in several derisory bids. They did the same again with a £200,000 bid for Latapy, we demanded £5 million several times and eventually they agreed. Latapy left for £5 million, which is the joint-fourth largest fee Bolton have ever received. And we immediately went to the board with a request for new youth facilities, which they agreed to with a cool £2 million investment. And that £5 million will keep the club going for 10 months.
But investing that into playing staff was more difficult so we’re kind of stuck with the same team as last season. One key area of concern is the left wing, where youngster Ebube Onoja is basically our only option! So this is how we’re looking for this season:
Championship season 3 begins
The season began at newly relegated Middlesbrough, who beat us 7-4 at home on the opening day two years ago. On that day, Cassidy had begun his Bolton career with a hat-trick and, ridiculously, he repeated the feat in another bonkers game. We started the game well and got ourselves in front three minutes before half-time. Barry was scythed down in the box three minutes later and Cassidy stepped up to double his tally. Middlesbrough rallied to get level within 20 minutes of the restart and forced Marcin Brzozowski but on 88 minutes Cassidy collected the ball from a Boro corner in our box, sprinted the entire length of the pitch and won himself a penalty! He coolly stepped up to convert and win us all three points with a 3-2 win.
A far less likely source gave us the advantage in our first home game against Portsmouth as holding midfielder Lars Dendoncker hit a stunner then 19-year-old right-winger/striker Ben Clarke got a late second for his first senior goal.
A much tougher challenge followed at Burnley but we played well and took the lead with a screamer from captain Turner. Burnley immediately levelled but we held out for a solid away point. Two more Cassidy goals also helped us win a cup game for the first time in two years! And the strong start continued as another Clarke goal edged us past newly promoted Sunderland 1-0. But it unsurprisingly ended at Bournemouth, although only with a respectable 1-0 loss.
We went behind again at home to bottom of the league Sheffield Wednesday but an own goal just before the break then an incredible solo goal by Clarke got us back to winning ways. Then Cassidy and Onoja sent us into the third round of the Carabao Cup for the first time.
Our best performance in a long time saw us race into a 3-0 lead at half-time at Huddersfield, with Mumba scoring his first two goals for the club. Barry got his first of the season after the break and we somehow let them back in with three comeback goals but snuck a 4-3 away win! And we finally added another left-winger to our ranks on deadline day in Japanese international Ritsu Doan on loan from Bournemouth.
An unsurprising loss at Villa then a point at Swansea were followed by a win at QPR in the Carabao Cup and centre back Adam Senior -who’s a League 2 standard defender – scoring his first senior goal to beat local rivals Preston. That suddenly gave him a taste for this goalscoring malarkey, as he repeated the feat in a 1-0 win over Charlton in the next game! That took us to second in the Championship after 11 games and that, for any Bolton fan, is a beautiful sight.
Arresting a slump
Defeats at Cardiff and Watford followed before the ridiculously good Wolves came to town with Tanguy Ndombele, Raul Jimenez and co. We missed a host of chances and lost 2-0. However, two late goals at Ipswich sent us into the Carabao Cup quarter-finals! That gave us Southampton away, which we did well to lose 1-0.
A slump in league form was ended with a 2-0 win over fellow mid-table side Bristol Rovers, which was a proud day for the club as academy product striker Matias Makinen’s scored his first goal for the club after a long wait of 16 matches to seal the win late on.
Stuttering form sent us into a huge local derby with Blackburn, who were flying high in second in the Championship. But we did well to hold them to 0-0 in what was an even, but terrible match. But we built on that with an excellent 2-1 win at Birmingham, dominated another local derby with a 4-1 win over Blackpool, with Doan finally having a good game after a terrible start at the club, then a 2-0 win at Brentford in which Cassidy again scored twice.
Two more braces from Super Ryan Cassidy inspired a 3-1 Boxing Day win over Middlesbrough then a 3-0 win at Portsmouth, which took him to 10 goals in his last seven games and won him the December play of the month while I won the manager of the month for the first time since League 2 in the first season.
Cassidy now has 20 goals in 29 in all competitions and 16 in 24 in the league. What a player! While Corey Jordan also deserves a mention for scoring four goals in his last six games. And that lifted us into the playoff places heading into 2025.
Join us next time to discover if Bolton Wanderers can carry their strong end to 2024 into the new year!