Exciting times appeared to be on the horizon for Bolton Wanderers as new owners were installed on Christmas Day 2025. The new consortium, led by local investor Rick Harris, were able to quickly get acquainted with their new side as Bolton faced a ridiculous three games in four days over Christmas.
That began on Boxing Day, the day after the takeover, as Bolton hosted Watford, which meant star striker Ryan Cassidy was ineligible. That showed Wanderers were well and truly dominated and went behind just before half-time. However, out of absolutely nowhere, right-back academy product Joshua McNally curled in a delicous free-kick equaliser for his first-ever goal for the club. Watford looked to have nicked it with a 90th minute goal by Antoine Semenyo, only for centre-back Luke Badley Morgan to head home from a free-kick in the 93rd minute to earn a well-fought, probably undeserved draw.
Two away days followed at Blackpool then Reading, which must have been a logistical nightmare. Indeed, the pre-match press conference for the Reading game took place BEFORE we played against Blackpool! The Blackpool game started badly as they took the lead inside four minutes and we did absolutely nothing. The next day we jumped on a bus down to Reading with a host of knackered players who rallied impressively to a 2-1 win thanks to an early Louie Barry goal then captain Nigel Turner nodded home from a Nnaemeka Nzekwesi long throw. Plus, I’ve mates with their new manager Fabio Grosso, so that’s nice.
2026 began with a major outgoing as midfielder Alfie McCalmont, the only player we’ve paid proper money for in a £165,000 deal from Leeds in the summer of 2023, moved to Hellas Verona for £1.9 million. His contract was expiring in the summer and we couldn’t afford a new one so, despite having our most assists with seven, this was a decent deal. Also leaving the club will be holding midfielder Lars Dendoncker, who’s been with us since 2022, at the end of his contract in the summer.
To replace McCalmont, I looked to a young player my scouts have been raving about for months and dished out easily the biggest fee we’ve spent so far. 17-year-old Barnsley midfielder Joseph Adams looks to have great potential and can also play down the right wing, and he could be a great long-term replacement. He arrived for £250,000 with Zane Monlouis moving in the other direction, which may be the first time I’ve ever seen an AI team ask for a part-exchange deal! We also signed another New Saints player (from whom we signed left-back Ivor Mulders) in 18-year-old forward Mark Parish for £5,000. He could be a steal!
Heading into 2026
The first game of 2026 was a third round FA Cup clash with Preston, which Barry – who hadn’t scored in 19 appearances all season until the Reading game – suddenly made it three in two to seal a 2-0 win. The reward was a tie with Premier League Norwich, who had N’Golo Kante and Sandro Tonali in midfield, and we were unlucky to lost 5-2 having taken the lead only for a dodgy penalty and an unfair red card to cost us.
Barry followed up with another brace in a 3-1 win over Rotherham, which took him to five goals in three games, the kid is on fire! That lifted us into the top half of the table and our continued overperforming led to relegation-threatened Newcastle, who’d just sacked Gennaro Gattuso, becoming interested in my services and offering an interview – not interested!
A much tougher task followed as we welcomed big-spending, second-place Bournemouth, who spend £45 million-a-year on wages compared to our £3.27 million. We bored them to death in the first half but were by far the better team after the break and took control as Dendoncker scored just his second goal of the season after the visitors failed to clear from a corner. And we held them at arm’s length, restricting them to zero shots on target to seal an impressive 1-0 win.
I reached 300 games in charge of Bolton with a trip across the Pennines to Huddersfield, which puts me sixth on the longest reigns in the club’s history behind Phil Neal (351), Sam Allardyce (371), John Somerville (438), Bill Ridding (767) and Charles Foweraker (912), the latter of which will take some catching. And the boys celebrated in style as Barry opened the scoring with a sensational goal then the academy took over with captain Turner scoring then centre-back Jack Salter got his first goal for the club.
We conceded 10 seconds into the second half at QPR but Roco Rees channelled his inner Brzozowski to launch a ball over the top for Cassidy to race onto and end his 11-hour goal drought to take us five games undefeated. And that good form led to Turner winning his first young player of the month award for January.
A tough run of games
The good run extended with a solid 0-0 against big-spending Derby which began a run of several sides chasing promotion. The next was Sheffield United, against whom we took an early lead through Turner only for them to equalise seven minutes later. Cassidy missed a couple of decent chances, which is becoming a common them, and they nicked it late on.
We then travelled to third-place Nottingham Forest and kicked off with no fewer than five academy products in the starting eleven, with two more on the bench. Mulders had a goal unfairly ruled out after seven minutes, and they immediately scored from a corner. But we improved after the break and Michael Riches sent a lovely through-ball for Cassidy to chase and convert, which earned an unlikely but hard-earned point.
Facing the strugglers
That was followed by a string of games against teams down the bottom of the league. That started at 21st-place Bristol Rovers, in which we started well and Cassidy made it count with the opener on 31 minutes. Rovers offered nothing and Turner continued his fine form by finishing things off with an 88th-minute screamer. In his last 10 games, Turner has four goals and three assists from centre midfield, after going 26 games with just one goal and zero assists. And, for context, he’s still considered a League 1 player
Next was bottom of the league Preston and we made a really fast start as Cassidy scored the opener followed by Salter’s second goal for the club – both inside four minutes. We did the same after the break as Mulders hit a ridiculous shoot from a narrow angle and Jude Soonsup-Bell made it four within five minutes of half-time. Preston got one back only for Parish, who’s made a rapid development since arriving, to get his first Bolton goal on 60 minutes. Some shocking defending allowed them to get three more back but held on for a crazy 5-4 win that should have been far more comfortable.
Another end of season slump
Burnley were somehow down in 19th despite having the third-highest salary spend in the league and they followed next in another Lancashire derby. And this proved to be a much tighter affair that ended 0-0. We took a hammering at Swansea but then held third-place Birmingham to 0-0, which took us to three games without scoring after hitting five against Preston!
The TV cameras were then in town as we travelled to Rochdale, who scored a ridiculous free-kick inside two minutes only for Cassidy to equalise with a wonderstrike of his own a minute later, which was created by academy product left-back Nana Martin’s first assist for the club. The game was pretty quiet after that explosive opening but Soonsup-Bell came off the bench to nick a winner.
That effectively confirmed another mid-table finish but we went on a poor run of form that saw us lose narrowly at home to and Cardiff, in which we were doing well until martin was sent off for making a clean tackle. Then we went to title challengers Middlesbrough, who spent £35.5 million on one player in January, and performed well but lost 3-1. And the poor end of season form continued with a draw against lowly Brentford and a defeat against Bristol City.
The season concluded with a 2-2 draw at Sheffield Wednesday, in which we had six youth academy products starting and three more came off the bench. But the most important thing to note here was that homegrown captain Nigel Turner, still only 20, played in his 200th league game for Bolton Wanderers, incredible!
Despite not winning any of our last seven games and just one of the last 11 we held on to a top-half finish, coming in 11th on 61 points, which was nine fewer than last season when we finished 10th. We scored 51, which was 10 fewer than last season, and conceded 52, which was five more than last season.
Once again, Ryan Cassidy was our star man this season, racking up 23 goals in 48 games in all competitions. Louie Barry scored six, which were all scored in January, Turner got five and Mulders and Badley-Morgan scored four. Our leading assister was McCalmont, who left the club in January having created seven goals. Mulders, Turner and Riches all got six, Barry got five and McNally got three. For what may be the first time in this save, none of our players averaged over a 7.00, the best performers being Rees and Cassidy on 6.93.
Cassidy won fans’ player of the season, Rees won young player of the season, Badley-Morgan won signing of the season and Barry got goal of the season for a strike against Huddersfield that also won Championship goal of the season.
Trotter talent golden generation continues
We had yet another exciting youth intake that included four players with 5-star potential and at least seven players who could become first-team contenders. The pick of the bunch were left-back Lloyd Whalley, defensive midfielder Derek Dowell, midfielder Lewis Gordon and winger James Hussey. This trio take the club to having 17 young players with at least 4.5-star potential and 27 with at least 4-star potential, so if we can realise it in the next couple of years then this could get very exciting!
Future Plans at Bolton
Despite the pretty awful conclusion to the season, I am still optimistic about our potential at Bolton. We’ve been well and truly stuck in mid-table for seasons now, which still constitutes a massive over-achievement as the media expects us to be relegated every season. But there’s plenty of young talent coming through, which was supported by investment in the youth facilities and further expanding youth recruitment to exceptional.
However, at the end of the season the board presented their plans for a pending new stadium, which the old board proposed to save the club money. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth as the blueprints revealed the beautifully named Eddie Davies Arena will seat 39,153 people and cost the club £100.4 million! The old stadium will bring in £11.25 million, but we’re now lumbered with a further £89 million of debt, repayable at £350,000-per-month until 2051. Brilliant.
A look around England
Man United won the Premier League for the first time in this save, ending the title swaps between Man City and Liverpool. Crystal Palace, Blackburn and Leeds were relegated. Bournemouth won the Championship, Nottingham Forest were promoted and Stoke won the playoffs to bounce back up. Bristol Rovers, Brentford and Preston were relegated.
Ipswich won Leaguie One and Hull and X were promoted, with Wycombe, Luton, Morecambe and Leyton Orient relegated. Forest Green Rovers won League Two and Southend and Walsall were promoted while Newport won the playoff final. Wrexham and Cheltenham were relegated into non-league and were replaced by Chestefield and York. Solihull, Southport, Worthing and Welling were relegated from the National League, replaced by Hereford, Kettering (who finished 7th in Vanarama North), Havant & Watrlooville and Bath City.
Chelsea won the FA Cup 3-1 against Spurs and Man United won the Carabao Cup 2-1 against Chelsea.
Join us next time as there will be plenty of rebuilding of the Bolton squad in the summer of 2026.