The final season at the University of Bolton Stadium – formerly the Reebok Stadium and Macron Stadium – saw Bolton Wanderers competing in the SkyBet Championship for the seventh successive season. That’s because the club is set to move to the brand new Eddie Davies Arena for the 2029/30 campaign.
We began the new season with just 16 players in the first-team squad and, crucially, no strikers and just two centre-backs as the loanees departed and defender Luke Badley-Morgan had ridiculous wage demands. Of those initial 16, only three didn’t come through the Bolton academy.
The striker option was difficult to fill as Watford finally refused to let us have Ryan Cassidy, who scored 127 gaols in 246 league games for us, back on loan. In his place, we loaned a very exciting player in 22-year-old Leeds man Simon Knox, who’s been dubbed “the new Alan Shearer” and scored 19 in 39 on loan at Middlesbrough in the Championship two seasons ago. We also brought in 18-year-old Red Bull Salzburg striker Tom Bosler to support him.
Two more loan signings bolstered the backline with 19-year-old PSG centre-back George Iordache and Brighton’s Hussein Stacey. We also snapped up a permanent signing with right-winger Sean Caldwell coming in for £7,000 from Shamrock Rovers. Then an injury to Ivor Mulders forced us into loaning Middlesbrough left-winger Richard Barrett.
Our squad is easily the youngest it’s ever been, with Nigel Turner and Mulders our oldest players at 23. Three players are 22, two are 21, and three are 20, while 12 of our 22 man first-team are teenagers.
I’m also considering a slightly different tactic to try and shoehorn youngster Liu Junyan, who’s shown great development over the summer, into the team. The new tactic is a 4-4-1-1 with Liu in the hole behind Knox. Here’s what we’re working with to start the season:
Championship 2028/29 kicks off
The new formation began very nicely as we beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 at home on the opening day. A lovely move saw Turner set right-winger Mark Parish free, he tucked inside and slammed home into the far corner. Wednesday equalised with their first shot (of course), but we sealed all three points with a repeat of the previous move, with Parish this time squaring for Knox to net on his debut. And in truth we absolutely dominated the game with 15 shots to five and nine shots on target to just one.
That was followed by an even better performance to win 3-0 at Swansea. We started excellently as young midfielder Lewis Gordon scored after 11 minutes, then Knox doubled his club tally by nodding home a superb Nana Martin cross. And Parish wrapped up the win with a delicious free-kick just after the hour.
We were unlucky to lose 3-2 at home to Derby, who nicked it with a dodgy late penalty, but bounced back to win 2-0 at Rochdale thanks to Turner and Knox scoring in his fourth successive game. But a string of games saw us lose to Bristol City, get thrashed by Leeds in the cup, and only a 1-0 loss at recently relegated Fulham.
Quiet deadline day
The transfer deadline day followed and brought with it a flurry of bids for our youngsters, including midfielder Derek Dowell and striker Arran Elliott. Buit the main target was centre-back Jack Salter, for whom the highest offer reached £13 million up front with around £10 million in add-ons from Middlesbrough, but we managed to hold them off for now. And in the end, nothing happened on deadline day!
Turner reaches 300 league games
We returned to winning ways as Barrett scored his first for Bolton and the only goal in a terrible game at home to Reading. That was followed by academy product and captain Nigel Turner’s 300th league game for the club, which we celebrated with a 2-1 win at Wayne Rooney’s Blackpool with Parish the star of the show.
Speaking of clubs with interesting managers, Vincent Kompany’s table-topping, unbeaten Nottingham Forest were next up. And we put in a great defensive effort to hold them to 0-0, which lifted us into the playoff positions. But we did concede at Cardiff thanks to an abysmal refereeing decision to gift them a penalty just before the break and we lost 1-0. Then a 90th-minute Knox goal earned us a deserved 1-0 win over Portsmouth – but clearly boring, boring Bolton were at it again!
Another clean sheet saw us beat QPR 2-0 with a Mulders brace on his return from injury and that shot us up to fourth in the league! We then took the lead at Sheffield United with an excellent move between Gordon and Junyan teeing up Knox, before Parish doubled it with a wonderstrike eight minutes later. However, Mulders got sent off for a shocking tackle just before the break and I expected a backlash. But our counter-attacking style worked nicely as Knox got sent free to win a penalty that Turner tucked home, then Junyan and Knox went clean through on goal and combined for Knox’s second. An amazing 4-0 win with ten men – what a performance!
The solid defensive work ended as we went two down in the first half at home to Middlesbrough. But another Knox brace took him to 10 goals for the season and earned an impressive 2-2 comeback draw, and that earned him the October player of the month award for five foals in four games. Alan Shearer would be proud!
We went two games without scoring heading into a reunion with Ryan Cassidy, who has nine goals in 13 games this season, as Watford came to town. But Knox showed his predecessor why he’s our new main man with two more goals in the first 12 minutes, which inspired a 2-1 win. Three points also followed at home to Charlton but, despite them going down to 10 men after 28 minutes, we had to wait until Parish’s magnificent 89th-minute free-kick, which won goal of the month, to nick it 1-0.
Three consecutive 0-0s continued the theme of boring, boring Bolton. We’d now only conceded five goals in 15 games since early September! Although we’d only scored 15… Thankfully, we put an end to this turgid run of football with a brilliant 4-1 hammering of Rotherham, in which Junyan had his best game for the club and Mulders scored a screamer.
A seven-game run ended with a 2-0 loss at leaders Blackburn, in which we had Parish unfairly sent off as he conceded a penalty after 40 minutes. That gave 17-year-old Solomon Suraka – who’s showing very exciting progression – a chance to start on Boxing Day at Sheffield Wednesday and he took his opportunity by creating the opener for Salter. Knox doubled the lead just after the break, which proved crucial as we won our final league game of 2028 2-1.
That lifted us to seventh in the SkyBet Championship, on 42 points from 24 games. We’ve got the second-best defence in the league with just 17 conceded and scored 30 – of which 21 have been scored by Parish (7) and Knox (14).
Strangely, 2028 closed out with the third round of the FA Cup, in which we hosted Premier League side Wolves – who offered me a third job interview in two years the previous month. We played really well against a strong Wolves team, which still includes Fabio Silva, and looked to be heading for a well-deserved 0-0 before a lovely move involving Junyan and Suraka found Knox to nod home the winner at the far post and caused an FA Cup shock to end the year!
Join us next time to discover if this young Bolton Wanderers side can keep their good, defensively solid form going into 2029.