Trotters Talent: Part 25 – New Tactic Triumphs

Bolton Wanderers had made a confident start to life back in the Premier League for the first time in two decades. A series of solid but unspectacular had the Trotters sitting just outside the European places at the half-way mark.

2032 began with on-loan PSG striker Cristian Constantin winning European Golden Boy, despite scoring just twice in 17 games for us! But a defensive crisis that concluded 2031 continued into the new year, as three of our starting back four were ruled out for the New Year’s Day clash with Aston Villa. The visitors started well and scored through a brilliant chip but a superb run by Solomon Suraka teed up an equaliser for midfielder Sean Caldwell. Villa scored with all of their attacks and won 3-2, but it was a proud day as academy product striker Fraser Ainsworth scored his first goal for the club.

Big transfer business

The transfer window began with Wuhan Zall making a £15 million bid for Erlend Skorpen, the left-winger we’d signed on a free transfer in 2029. He’d scored four goals this season but his potential was dwindling, but he’s important to us. So I asked for £35 million thinking they’d balk at it but they offered it! So yet another huge new transfer record sale came in. That boosted the bank balance to £95 million and, on top of the sale, we’re actually starting to make a profit every month for the first time thanks to TV revenue.

We brought in Israeli wonderkid right-back 19-year-old Sharon Laluz for just £750,000, as his Maccabi Haifa contract was expiring in the summer. He looks like an amazing prospect. We also strengthened at centre-back by loaning in Dortmund’s Jerson Patino and exciting 18-year-old Lasse Hermansen, who cost just £1 million from FC Kobenhavn. Another exciting talent arrived in 20-year-old Serbian midfielder Stefan Grubelic for £3 million from Crvena Zvezda, and he’s immediately worth £13.75 million.

New tactic triumphs

The Skorpen deal left us without a left-winger and I couldn’t find a decent replacement. So I decided to change the formation to a narrow 4-1-3-2 that packed out the midfield and moved Suraka up front. The first trial of this saw it work a treat at Brighton. We stifled them in a quiet first half, fell behind just after the break, but two lovely team goals saw us fire back and win with goals from Caldwell and Jack Shaw. And the Bolton fans loved our new tactical approach.

It also worked a treat as Laluz made his debut at Palace, where we defended resolutely and nicked a goal on the counter. And it was another lovely passing move that ended in a one-two seeing Suraka tee up Guilherme for the only goal. That win took us onto 31 points, 12 clear of the relegation zone in ninth place. And I think we should be safe now, which is amazing to say in January!

Two more away days – that’s four in a row – began with playing terribly and losing 2-0 at bottom of the league Bournemouth. Then my 600th match in charge of Bolton saw a massive response in our best away performance yet at Wolves, who were also in the relegation zone. A dull first half was instantly forgotten as Constantin teed up Suraka for a goal on the counter. The Romanian then scored himself and created another for Shaw – who won January young player of the month – before substitute Guilherme wrapped up a fantastic 4-0 win.

Big boys visit Bolton

A 12-day break – thanks to throwing a third round FA Cup game against Leicester – allowed us to rest players ahead of a huge clash at home to local rivals and league leaders Man United. We got off to a great start as their defender put in a shocking challenge with Caldwell through on goal and Suraka slammed the penalty past Donnarumma – and I’m pretty sure they should have been down to ten. United fired back with two goals in a minute but, against all the odds, centre-back Ajah Wray headed home from a free-kick. At half-time, we’d had two shots and they’d had six and all four shots on target and gone in! We restricted United after the break and Caldwell nearly nicked it late on, but we came away with a brilliant 2-2 draw. And the win was inspired two Trotter Talents in Suraka and Wray, who earned player of the match.

Our recent pick up in form had us sitting just six points behind Spurs in the final European place, and we welcomed them to the Eddie Davies Arena next. Spurs had just signed Lautaro Martinez after 10 years at Chelsea and he scored after 13 minutes. We restricted them to just six shots and were a little unlucky to lose 2-0. Suraka then inspired a 2-1 win in a tight game at Fulham with a goal and assist, which moved us to 38 points and we’re now effectively safe from relegation.

Third-place Everton then came to town and scored with their first shot, restricted us to one shot and none on target all match, and won 1-0. We then entertained Burnley managed by Raúl – as in, the Raúl of Real Madrid fame – who’d just gone there after 11 years managing Real Madrid Castilla. They took the lead with their first shot through our former defender Alfie Gilchrist but we eventually got level through the excellent Caldwell.

Suraka was the star of the show with a goal and assist in a 2-0 win at Middlesbrough, which took us past the 40-point mark. Then a Jakub Krob goal was enough to sneak a 1-0 win at Leicester and Suraka’s goal brought the same result at relegation-threatened Norwich, which took us to three consecutive away wins. But at home we were struggling to create as we lost 1-0 to Southampton. But results elsewhere meant we were mathematically safe from relegation.

Tough season conclusion

That was lucky as we had a tough final five games against Man City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool plus fifth-place West Brom. We began well at home to City as Constantin teed up Suraka to shock them, but they soon turned it around and beat us 3-1. We were by far the better team at home to Arsenal and a frantic last 12 minutes saw Guilherme and Suraka’s 10th goal of the season claim a deserved 2-2 draw.

Suraka kept his great form going by scoring after six minutes at Stamford Bridge but they of course went on to dominate and win 3-1. The season ended at home to Liverpool who, unsurprisingly, scored with their first shot. We domoniated the game and got a deserved equaliser as Tristan Smith, the star of the latest youth intake, came on to tee up Suraka.

That meant we finished the campaign without a win in the tough final six games. We finished in 11th place on 50 points, scoring 39 and conceding 51 – which is all pretty respectable for a first season in the Premier League. Interestingly, 11th was the lowest we’d been all season.

Season Review

Suraka was our top scorer with 12 goals, got the most player of the match awards (3) and won goal of the season, which came second in the league’s goal of the season. Constantin got the most assists with eight and Caldwell got the highest average rating and won fans’ player of the season and young player of the season. Additionally, Suraka, Caldwell and Darragh Bonner made it into the Bolton overall best 11.

Caldwell registered the third-most dribbles in the league (36) and Suraka the sixth-most (30). Interestingly, Caldwell won the most tackles in the league (150), with Martin and Ayetz (both 24) sixth and seventh, and Martin won the second-most interceptions (79). And David Roberts had the fifth-best save ratio (79%) and ninth-best 10 clean sheets.

But potentially the biggest change this season has been the finances. Broadcast revenue spiked to a huge £94 million up from £3.1 million last season. While competition prize money went from nothing to £21.3 million and sponsorship more than tripled to £4.3 million. On top of the massive Skorpen sale that boosted the bank balance to £140 million.

Trotters Talent update

Our academy products played a key part in our efforts to survive this season. The likes of David Roberts, Nana Martin, Ajah Wray, Solomon Suraka, Darragh Bonner and Nigel Turner all played at least 25 league games, while Lloyd Whalley, Peter Agnew, Derek Dowell and Graham Hayden all played a handful of games each. And the club still has at least 14 players with 4.5-star potential or better, so there’s even more to come.

Our Under 18s won the U18 Premier Division Cup, beating Liverpool 2-0 in the final. However, they lost 2-0 to the youth candidates side, which includes several exciting new players led by final day hero Smith, who’s now considered the best prospect at the club, and Dylan Smart.

A look around England

Man United won the Premier League, continuing the trend of swapping titles with City. Norwich, Palace and Bournemouth were relegated. Leeds won the Championship with Watford and surprise package Portsmouth promoted, while Bristol Rovers, Huddersfield and Barnet were relegated.

Our feeder club Leyton Orient won League One and Wigan and Southend were promoted, with Sunderland, Plymouth, Wycombe and Forest Green going down. Walsall won League Two and went up with Crawley, Scunthorpe and Chesterfield, with Lincoln and Newport dropping out of the Football League. Replacing them were Salford and Notts County, with Spennymoor, Dagenham & Redbridge, Harrogate and Havant & Waterlooville going down. Thwy ere replaced by Chorley, South Shields, Eastleigh and Maidenhead, while Worcester, Lowestoft, Halesowen, Coalville, St Albans, Dorking, Basingstoke and Harrow dropped out of the system.

United also won the FA Cup 2-1 against Chelsea and Spurs won the Carabao Cup 3-0 against Brighton. Liverpool won the Champions League, beating Spurs on penalties in the final, and Dortmund beat Villa to win the Europa League.

Join us next time to discover whether Bolton can build on their first year of success back in the Premier League!

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