A second loss at the final hurdle of the Playoff Final condemned Bolton Wanderers to a ninth season in the SkyBet Championship in the 2030/31 season. This was my 11th season in charge of Bolton and I’m relatively confident we’ve slowly but surely built our strongest squad so far.
After the massive outgoings last season, there was no need for us to sell players. However, as pre-season was coming to and end we received an outrageous bid worth a total of £58 million for midfielder Sean Caldwell. We had to accept that, but he had no interest in joining them and rejected the bid!
The new season offered a chance for refresh as we allowed the likes of Ivor Mulders, who made 219 league appearances in seven years at the club, and Mark Parish, who scored 35 goals in 135 league games. Both were excellent for a few seasons but tailed off last year. Parish was replaced by our most expensive signing of the save so far in 18-year-old winger Jakub Krob for £2 million from Mladá Boleslav.
Key signings included renewing loan deals for our giant centre-back pairing of George Iordache from PSG and Gil from Inter, as well as midfielder Peter Reed-Sorinola from Southampton. Striker Simon Knox’s contract at Leeds expired at the end of the season and I was hoping to put a bid in for him but he broke his leg in training at the end of his loan spell with us. We added another exciting loanee in Arsenal attacking midfielder Jack Shaw, who looks like a serious prospect! Then brought in 6ft 5in striker Shemar Vanzie – who’s the polar opposite to 5ft 7in Suraka! – on loan from Everton on deadline day.
With the new signings and players available to us, I decided to totally switch up our formation and tactical approach for the new season. I’m now looking to use a 4-2-3-1 formation with hot prospect Solomon Suraka up front and Shaw in the hole behind him. I’m also moving away from the direct passing approach, with more of a focus on nicer football. I felt like playing the holding midfielder was a waste of time last season and I want us to be a bit more expansive as we look to establish ourselves towards the top of the league. We’ll see how that works out!
Heading into the new season, the media have upped their expectations to 16th while our board now want a mid-table finish, which is probably fair enough after the last few seasons.
The Championship resumes
We began the new season against Watford on Suraka’s 19th birthday. And he had a birthday to remember, while Krob had a debut to remember. Krob created goals for opposite winger Erlend Skorpen and Suraka inside 16 minutes then Shaw created Suraka’s second five minutes later. That was enough to begin the season with a 3-0 win and what a start for the front four! And, apparently, that ended Suraka’s 18-game goal drought.
Just when I thought we had a winning tactic on our hands, we lost 2-1 at Forest with Suraka scoring again. But we bounced back with Shaw creating goals for Skorpen and Caldwell to win 2-1 at Bristol City. We unsurprisingly lost at home to Norwich then got thrashed 5-0 at West Ham, no thanks to a disgrace of a refereeing display that saw them given two penalties in the first half and Gil sent off late on.
I can’t deny that I panicked – despite Norwich and West Ham being way too good for this level – and returned to our tried and trusted formation, and it worked. An exciting moment for the club saw academy product winger Ryan McCutcheon come in for his first start and immediately create a goal for fellow Trotter talent Suraka, who’s now become a wonderkid, then another for Caldwell. Burnley came back into it but McCutcheon played in Skorpen to setup Caldwell for a vital third.
A sudden turnaround in form
We went on to dominate Preston away only for them to undeservedly equalise in the last minute and edged past Sheffield United with a Skorpen penalty. I tested the new formation and it worked nicely in a solid 2-0 win over Birmingham and reverted to the old one, with a more defensive twist, to earn a hard-working 0-0 at third-place Cardiff. Then Suraka scored the only goal at Rochdale as we went four games without conceding! But that ended as Rotherham scored with their first shot, but we salvaged a draw through Krob’s first goal for the club.
After four defeats in five, we’d suddenly gone seven unbeaten, which lifted us to fourth in the table! One of the main reasons behind this turnaround was midfielder Caldwell, who’s now wanted by PSG and several mid-table Premier League sides! And he showed why with the opener against Portsmouth, before Vanzie and Shaw both scored their first Bolton goals late on to seal a 3-0 win. We kept the good times going with a solid 1-0 win over Swansea thanks to another Suraka goal. And that took us second in the league!
Shaw had his best game yet as he scored a stunner then created the second for Vanzie, on his first league start, at home to Peterborough. The visitors scored with their first shot – because why wouldn’t they? – but Craig Chilton, getting a run of starts at centre-back, scored his first Bolton goal and Suraka made it comfortable before a late consolation.
Caldwell put on a show for PSG boss Thomas Tuchel and the live TV fans with two assists in a 2-1 home win over Blackpool, which took us to 12 games unbeaten. But that streak ended as we missed a host of chances to lose 2-1 at Blackburn, who only scored through an early penalty (which, yes, was their first shot). We then threw away a 2-0 lead at Sheffield Wednesday and looked to be heading for the same scoreline at home to Reading until Suraka popped up with a deserved injury time winner.
Strong end to 2030
Despite a mini-blip in form we were still fourth in the Championship heading into December, and now just two points off the top. And a 2-0 win at bottom of the league Wigan, again inspired by Suraka, lifted us to first place, but that didn’t last long as we struggled to a 1-1 draw with QPR. We then went to Derby and our former defender Jack Salter obviously forgot which team he plays for as he scored an own goal inside four minutes! Krob sealed the win with just his second goal of the season.
2030 finished firmly on the back foot with a superb defensive effort at Watford on Boxing Day. Skorpen nicked a 1-0 win through some dreadful defending despite Caldwell and Suraka going off injured after 55 minutes. Suraka was ruled out for six weeks with strained knee ligaments. And without him we struggled to a poot 2-1 home defeat against Bristol City to bring the year to a close.
However, that did take us into the new year sitting in second place in the Championship. We have 48 points from 25 games and are four points behind surprise leaders Nottingham Forest and one point clear of Burnley and Cardiff, two clear of Norwich and six ahead of Watford – so it promises to be a tight battle once again.
Join us next time to discover if we can lead Bolton out of the Championship at the ninth attempt!