Bolton Wanderers were continuing to defy expectations in the SkyBet Championship, sitting in the playoff positions heading into 2025. That had been mostly inspired by the goals of free-scoring Ryan Cassidy, but it couldn’t be expected for the side to continue to challenge at the top.
However, the Watford loanee continued that trend with a hat-trick to seal a New Year’s Day win over local rivals Burnley. That took him to 13 goals from his last eight games and 23 goals in total, and took Bolton just four points away from the promotion places with 20 games remaining!
But a much bigger test soon followed as we hosted Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup on TV at a frozen University of Bolton Stadium. Arsenal took a deserved lead but an encouraging half-time teamtalk worked wonders as Cassidy equalised on 51 minutes. Then a Gabriel foul from a free-kick gave the striker a chance to give us the lead and we slammed home the spot-kick! But a stupid challenge from left-back Alvaro Fernandez gifted them a penalty in the 87th minute, which Ansu Fati converted for a 2-2 draw and a replay. The game also set a gate receipts record of £800,000, which was much needed!
Despite “facing the impossible,” we took a highly unlikely lead in the replay as Corey Jordan headed home from a corner in the fourth minute. But Arsenal equalised through Fati just two minutes later then scored from a direct free-kick on 10 minutes. They went on the rampage with two more goals after half-time but we pulled one back late on through Louie Barry for a respectable 4-2 loss.
That was followed three days later by hosting leaders Bournemouth, who spend 25-times more than us in wages. We were the better team in the first half then Cassidy hit the bar with a superb volley but the visitors nicked it with a late strike from Joao Pedro, who they signed for £25 million in the summer.
We got ourselves back to winning ways led by a Cassidy hat-trick and a Nigel Turner long-ranger in a 4-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday, who still had more shots than us! Incidentally, Cassidy has now progressed to become considered a decent Premier League player so we may struggle to get him back next season.
We then unsurprisingly lost 2-0 at home to Villa, but both goals were scored from corners and were the first two goals we’d conceded from corners all season. Which was a bit strange.
The rarity of a Cassidy assist for 19-year-old winger/left-back Ivor Mulders’ first goal for the club setup another great away performance in a 3-0 win at Preston, in which Mulders – who signed from The New Saints for £3,500 last season – added a second and Alfie McCalmont scored a screamer for his first goal of the season. That gave Mulders a taste for it, scoring and creating one for Cassidy in a 2-1 win at home to Swansea. Then a game at Charlton appeared to be drifting to a 0-0 only for academy product midfielder Trevor Weller to come off the bench and score a dream first goal for the club with a 30-yard 92nd minute winner.
A tough run sees Bolton slide
That strong form took us into a tough run of games that began with defeat against Cardiff, then somehow earned a 0-0 at a ridiculously good Wolves side, before losses to Watford and Nottingham Forest, in which there was one highlight in the entire game. But we bounced back in a thrilling 4-2 win over bottom club Peteborough, who twice led but we took control with a Mulders wondergoal and Ben Clarke ending a 19-game goal drought. That gave Clarkey confidence and he scored the opener at home to third-placed Sheffield United, then got himself sent off for a two-footed lunge but we held on for a big 1-0 win.
That was followed by devastating news that goalkeeper hero Marcin Brzozowski would be leaving at the end of his contract in the summer after agreeing a deal with New England Revolution.
But more exciting news saw the board slap a transfer embargo on us as “rival consortiums” got involved in a “tug of war” between prospective new owners Danny Hunter, the former Boreham Wood owner, and Ant Smith. However, after more than a month of talks, both eventually fell through.
A little blip in form followed, including a televised rival defeat at Blackburn, but ended with a 2-1 win over Birmingham with Cassidy and Mulders again on the scoresheet. However, that proved to be our only win in the last six, finishing the season with an unlucky 2-1 loss at Mikel Arteta’s Reading, in which Brzozowski signed off with a ridiculous goal after he booted a clearance against Penaranda’s backside.
And that saw us drop down to 10th in the Championship table for the second season in a row, this time finishing with 70 points compared to last year’s 65. We scored 61 and conceded just 37, which was nine more and four less than last season respectively. Cassidy finished as the fourth-top scorer in the league with 25 goals in 43 games, just two behind Sheffield United’s David Okereke. While McCalmont had the third-most assists in the league with 12, two behind Cardiff’s Calvin Stengs and Forest’s Cameron Brannagan.
This performance is made impressive by the fact that our starting centre-backs Jordan and Senior are considered decent League 1 and good League 2 standard players and only four of our regular starters are considered to be Championship standard. And that was recognised by the board, who offered me a new contract that ups my wages to £9,000-per-week, up from £6,750 and more than three-times our highest-earning player!, until 2028.
Cassidy led the way with 31 goals, followed by Barry, who didn’t score after mid-January, and Ivor Mulders, who really emerged as a potential star at the end of the season, with seven. Clarke and Jordan got six and Turner scored three. We finally had a midfielder provide some creativity as McCalmont led the way with 13 assists, followed by Turner with nine, Barry and the awful Ritsu Doan with six, then Matheson and Cassidy got five. Only Cassidy got an average rating above a 7.
Cassidy won the fans’ player of the season and young player of the season, while academy product midfielder Trevor Weller’s only goal for the club was also goal of the season.
Trotter Talents update
We have even more exciting youngsters coming through the club as our youth candidates team beat a strong under 18s side. The pick of the bunch is right-back Darragh Bonner, along with goalkeeper David Roberts and, interestingly, we had an Iraqi midfielder come through the ranks in Ahmed Mohammed. This intake takes us to 11 players who have 4.5 or 5-star potential at the club, which bodes for exciting times to come.
A look around England
Man City continued the trend of trading Premier League successes with Liverpool, who dropped to fifth. All of last year”s promoted sides, Derby, Bristol City and Stoke, who got just 16 points, were relegated. Villa won the Championship, Wolves came second and Blackburn won the playoff final, while Portsmouth, Sunderland and Peterborough went down.
Rotherham, Rochdale and QPR came up from League 1 with Gillingham, Notts County, Forest Green and Millwall going down. They were replaced by Plymouth, Morecambe, Leyton Orient and Mansfield, and Stevenage and Barrow were relegated out of the league. Oldham and Wrexham were promoted back into it with Sutton, Wealdstone, Kidderminster and Havant & Waterlooville relegated. Boston, Chester, Worthing and Welling got promoted to the National League.
Join us next time as we look to rebuild this Bolton side for a fourth successive season in the Championship!