A tough start to Bolton Wanderers’ second season back in the Premier League was long forgotten thanks to a solid defence leading a turnaround in form. As a result, our better players were being linked with some huge moves in January 2033.
Sean Caldwell attracted interest from Liverpool and Spurs, before a £30 million bid from Man City, and Burnley put in a derisory bid for homegrown goalkeeper David Roberts. While Solomon Suraka was linked with a £40 million move to Championship side Crystal Palace, and Guilherme, who’s just signed a new contract, was wanted by various Chinese sides. However, our finances are looking really good now with a balance of nearly £150 million so there was no pressure to sell unless we got a ridiculous bid, which never materialised.
Additionally, several of our young signings are showing huge progress, including the likes of Guilherme, centre-back Lasse Hermansen and midfielder Mathias Hansen, so there wasn’t too great a need to be active in the January transfer window.
That said, my scouts recommended Brazilian midfielder Vítor Hugo, who was available on a free transfer so we snapped him up. We also brought in exciting 18-year-old Mexican striker Eduardo Navarro, who has 19 finishing and 17 pace, and midfielder Mario Cordeiro for £3.5 million from Racing Club.
A tough start to 2033
Just like the start of the season, 2033 also began with a tough run of games. It started away to fourth-place Aston Villa, who scored from two indirect free-kicks then straight after half-time and thankfully settled for 3-0. We then entertained seventh-place Spurs before taking on all of the top three.
First up was Spurs and we made a great start with a Guilherme double, but they came back and earned a 2-2 draw thanks to a dreadful penalty decision in the last minute. We then entertained runaway leaders Man United, who’ve only lost once all season. They started well and scored from an indirect free-kick on which they somehow had three players totally unmarked. But they offered nothing else as our defence restricted them to just seven shots, and we eventually made them pay as Caldwell stepped up to bang a heroic injury-time equaliser.
That was followed by three tough away days in a week at Chelsea, Leicester and Liverpool. First up was a trip to second-place Chelsea, still managed by Frank Lampard. I made several defensive tweaks to the instructions and it worked nicely as we held off Chelsea’s strong start to head into the break all square. On the hour mark out of nowhere, Guilherme passed to Suraka, who dribbled through the Chelsea defence and scored a brilliant solo goal. The Brazilian striker doubled the lead on 74 minutes and we were suddenly dreaming of a hugely unexpected three points. Chelsea won a penalty that Roberts saved, which earned him an 8.5 alongside nine saves, then, with the hosts pushing, Guilherme teed up Caldwell to seal an amazing 3-0 win. This was easily the best performance of this entire save so far!
Two days after that momentous win we faced a trip to Leicester. We got off to a flyer with Caldwell showing his class with a screamer then sending Guilherme through to finish with a cheeky chip two minutes later. But our exhausted team fell apart after the break and lost 3-2. A trip to Anfield followed three days later and we were lucky to only lose 2-0. It didn’t get much easier as sixth-place Southampton came to town and scored inside 10 minutes through Mikel Oyorzabal, but we recovered and Caldwell scored yet again to earn us a deserved point.
We took that into a home game against Brighton, in which Guilherme was excellent in laying on Suraka’s delicious flicked opener then a brilliant curled finish by winger Jakub Krob, who we’re training as a central midfielder. We threw away another 2-0 lead in a 2-2 draw with Leeds, in which the main talking point was a Suraka screamer, then took the second half performance of that game into losing 2-1 at Burnley despite dominating the game. And in that game, Roberts made his 200th league appearance for Bolton.
Suraka repeated the feat with an even better goal to open the scoring against West Brom, in which he had probably his best performance in the Premier League, playing an 8.5. Guilherme missed a host of chances but eventually got his goal to wrap up a 2-0 win that took us past the magical 40-point mark and confirm a third season in the big time.
A dream debut
We had a 19-day gap between games to enjoy our survival, then eight pressure-free games to conclude the campaign. That began at fifth-place Everton, where we defended well but only a shocking penalty decision cost us a 1-0 defeat. But we put that disappointment behind us at Fulham as two long-range screamers by holding midfielder Gonzalo Pereyra and homegrown utility man Neal Vickers, this time playing in midfield, has us 2-0 up at half-time. Fulham pulled one back but Guilherme added a third to make it comfortable.
That gave us some confidence going into two tough games against Arsenal and Man City. First, we did well to get a 0-0 against Arsenal and, in reality, should have won it as we had 11 shots to their five – in a game where the media branded our new style of play as “di Lathamé-ball.” Then in-form, second-place City, still managed by Pep Guardiola, came to town and we made a flying start as Guilherme scored inside three minutes then missed another big chance five minutes later. City made him pay as Rayan Cherki equalised then created a late winner, but a 2-1 loss was a solid effort. That also ended an 18-game unbeaten home streak.
But we bounced back in style against relegated Portsmouth. Gil scored his first of the season, before 18-year-old debutant Navarro – who’d scored 10 in eight for the under 23s – latched on to two Hansen through balls to bag twice before half-time. And the youngster wrapped up a dream debut as he collected the ball from a loose pass and smashed home for his hat-trick – what a performance. Hilariously, that already makes him our fifth-highest scorer this season!
An outrageous Guilherme chip, which took him to 20 goals for the season, earned us a 1-0 win at Watford completely against the run of play, before a 2-1 loss at Wolves in our final away day. We ended the campaign at home to Middlesbrough – which evokes personal memories of the 2003 season. I threw a few more youngsters in and it didn’t start well as Boro won a penalty after 30 seconds! Suraka quickly equalised and Hermansen’s first goal for the club put us ahead after 30 minutes. We played really well, led by two Caldwell assists, and Nana Martin extended the lead just after the break to send the fans home happy for the summer.
That helped us to another 11th place finish, the same position as last season, which bagged us £22 million in prize money. However, we got four more points than last season (54), scored 15 more goals (also 54) and conceded six fewer (45). This was achieved despite still having the lowest salary spend in the league, with £1 million per year less than Portsmouth, who only got 15 points.
Guilherme was the fifth-top scorer in the Premier League with 18 goals and had the second-most shots (121), while Caldwell’s eight assists was the 13th-best tally. Martin made the most blocks in the league (97) and third-most interceptions (84), Gil made the most clearances (614), Caldwell made the most tackles per 90 minutes (4.65) and Roberts had the best save ratio (81%).
Our star man this season has to be Guilherme, who scored 20 goals in all competitions plus seven assists. But the top performer stats-wise was Sean Caldwell, who scored an impressive 10 and assisted eight at an average rating of 7.23. That won him the fans’ player and young player of the season awards. These two key players, along with Suraka, have seen their values rise to more than £40 million.
Hansen was signing of the season and Gonzalo Pereyra won goal of the season for a strike against Fulham that finished second in the league’s goal of the season. Guilherme top-scored with 20 followed by Caldwell’s 10, Suraka got nine, Vickers scored nine and Navarro scored three all in one game. Caldwell and Guilherme led the assists chart with Hansen, Pereyra, Sharon Laluz, Gil and Martin all getting three.
Trotter Talents update
Our focus on homegrown talents remains with the first-team squad featuring nine players that came through the Bolton academy. Of those, Martin leads the way with 279 league appearances followed by Roberts on 205. Suraka is up to 184 appearances with 48 goals, Darragh Bonner has 161, Peter Agnew has 68 – of which 52 have been as a sub – and Ajah Wray has 64. One of the most impressive youngsters this season has been Neal Vickers, who scored a few and put in some decent performances.
We have several exciting youngsters coming through in striker Tristan Smith, goalkeeper Tim Marshall and midfielders Luke Johnson and Ray Johnston. We also had another solid youth intake, which had four players with at least 4.5-star potential. The pick of the bunch were striker Craig Radcliffe, centre-back George Hunt and midfielder Alfie Smith.
A look around England
Man United defended their Premier League title, which is their sixth in the last eight years. Middlesbrough, Brighton and Portsmouth were relegated. Derby won the Championship and Newcastle and Sheffield United were promoted, with Southend, Rotherham and Wigan going down.
Huddersfield, Colchester and Preston came up from League 1 with Cambridge, Chesterfield, MK Dons and Fleetwood going down. Millwall won League 2 and, interestingly, Bromley were also promoted with Sunderland and Wycombe, while Boston and Yeovil dropped out of the league system. Lincoln and Wrexham replaced them, with South Shields, Gateshead, Ebbsfleet and Eastleigh going the other way. They were replaced by Darlington, Morecambe, Torquay and Aldershot, with Grantham, Hyde, Royston, St Ives, Cirencester, Dover, Canvey Island and Billericay disappearing out of the playable leagues.
Liverpool beat Norwich 4-0 in the FA Cup Final and Chelsea beat Everton 3-0 to win the Carabao Cup. Barcelona won the Champions League on penalties against Hertha BSC and, very randomly, West Brom beat Spurs to win the Europa League!
Join us next time as we build on another season of solid Premier League survival with an £84 million transfer kitty as we move into the 2033/34 campaign with Bolton Wanderers.