Trotters Talent | Part 28: Johnson & Johnston

Our focus on developing Bolton Wanderers’ academy products has continued to go well through to the 2033/34 campaign. Ten of our first-team squad came through the ranks and at least four are first-choice starters, but with that comes the inevitability that some players won’t quite make the first team.

Indeed, the summer of 2033 saw several academy products sold on to further their careers for notable profit. The pick of those were midfielders Peter Agnew, who’d shown minimal progression, joining Stoke for £5 million and Jordan Bruce going to Leeds for £8 million. Leeds also came in for striker Fraser Ainsworth, who only had 3.5-star potential, for a fee rising to £10.5 million, while defender James Lovatt went to Forest for £500,000.

These deals took our bank balance past £200 million for the first time. Furthermore, I worked out that players produced by the Bolton academy have now accrued £113.1 million in sales. In full: Ronnie Latapy (£5m to Villa then retired at 26), Joshua McNally (£145k to Southend), Ebube Onoja (£400k to Sheff Wed), Greg Ward (£400k to Sheff Wed), Jack Salter (£20m to Derby), Lewis Gordon (£23.5m to Birmingham before joining Watford for £22m), Liu Junyan (£20m to Brentford, joining Hubs the next year for £14.5m), Arran Elliott (£575k to Bristol City), Marc Matthews (£450k to Rotherham), Craig Chilton (£475k to Forest), Jeremy Chadwick (£600k to Blackpool), Nick Hayward (£7m to Norwich), Frank Kearness (£575k to Derby), Carl Greaves (£10m to Blackburn).

The latest outgoings were replaced by fellow academy midfielders Luke Johnson and Ray Johnston, who look like really exciting prospects and showed great progression over the summer. Speaking of academy talents, 17-year-old striker Dylan Smart, who came through the 2031 intake, won the Golden Boot at the Under-19 European Championships and is considered the best prospect at the club.

I began the summer with a long overdue scouring of national youth sides, which unearthed several exciting talents. This included 18-year-old Colombians centre-back Ferney Tapasco and midfielder Javier Parra, who cost a combined £100,000, with several more joining in the next couple of years, including two very exciting Brazilian wonderkids arriving in January 2034. We also brought in defensive support with Real Madrid loanee Carlos.

But the best deal of the summer was retaining star man Sean Caldwell who, on the back of a £50 million bid from Chelsea, became the highest-paid player in club history on £88,000-a-week – and, despite that, we still have the lowest wage expenditure in the league (and less than five Championship clubs!). The midfielder, who we signed for just £7,000 from Shamrock in 2028, doesn’t have exceptional attributes but he’s just an all-round solid midfielder and has 31 goals in 185 games for Bolton and four goals in 18 caps for Scotland.

There’d been very little change to last season’s squad and I saw little need to overhaul our tactic, so this is how it’s looking for the start of the campaign. However, it’s worth noting that my coaches only consider seven of our players to be operating at Premier League level!

Premier League resumes

Our third season back in the Premier League began with the Monday night kick-off and a tough test away to Leicester. But we got off to a flyer as left-back Nana Martin won a penalty after an excellent team move and Solomon Suraka converted. Guilherme doubled the lead with an excellent finish from a Mathias Hansen through ball, Leicester pulled one back and, with them chasing late on, Suraka put Guilherme clear on goal to double his tally and seal a huge 3-1 win.

We had a much nicer start to this season than last with two games against newly promoted sides up next. First was Newcastle at home, and the new boys gifted Caldwell an opener. Guilherme doubled the lead with a delicious chip after brilliant work from Johnson, playing in the holding role, to win the ball back and launch a counter. We dominated the game and young Mexican striker Eduardo Navarro – who became a fans’ favoured personnel with his debut hat-trick last season – came off the bench to seal a 3-0 win. We then faced former defender Salter in a trip to Derby, where a Suraka double and Johnson’s first assist for the club earned a 2-2 draw, before dominating a home game with Southampton but only winning 1-0 through another Guilherme goal.

Tough run of games

A string of games against big teams followed, starting with entertaining Chelsea, against whom we drew 5-5 then beat 3-0 away last season. But this year’s fixture turned out to be the polar opposite of last year’s and ended 0-0 with nothing happening but our defence excelling.

We then went to Arsenal and defended solidly but conceded a 94th-minute goal to lose 1-0. It didn’t get much easier as we went to Man City, who’d won six out of six, but another great defensive effort saw us come away with a 0-0 despite having just three shots to 13 and conceding 67% of possession. That was followed by a trip to Liverpool – yep, Arsenal, City, Liverpool away in consecutive games! – where our luck ran out. They scored early, Guilherme missed two huge chances and they scored two more late on, including a 90th minute Trent Alexander-Arnold screamer.

We’d done well in those games without the injured Caldwell, but he returned to smash home a screamer to earn a point at home to West Brom, who scored early with a dubious penalty and we struggled to finish our chances. Another Midlands side followed as Aston Villa came to town, and we made a great start with a Suraka penalty only for them to equalise with their only shot of the first half. But we took control after the break with Guilherme putting us ahead then creating two goals for substitute Neal Vickers – who came on after both Suraka and Navarro got injured – and a Jakub Krob long-range strike sealed a 5-2 thumping.

Injuries were beginning to mount up, which saw us struggle to put chances away in a 0-0 at Watford. But there were no such concerns back at the Eddie Davies Arena against bottom side Sheffield United. Guilherme and Krob, who’d been excelling as the box-to-box midfielder lately, gave us a 2-0 half-time lead that Caldwell added to just after the break.

The Vickers shows

That gave us confidence heading to Tottenham, which showed as Hansen created the opener for Guilherme then scored a screamer inside 12 minutes. He got injured just after time but from there it was the Vickers show as the utility man, who was in for the injured Suraka and definitely shouldn’t be a striker, bagged twice in the final hour to wrap up a huge win and the best of the save so far. Spurs 0-4 Bolton!

Vickers was at the centre of things as we breezed to another 4-0 win in the next game at home to Burnley, in which Johnston made his first Premier League start. The 6ft 2in striker powered home a header, created a second for Guilherme, then scored a repeat of his first goal before racing through to wrap up a hat-trick in the 89th minute. What a man, and I promise he’s not actually that good but somehow has seven goals in eight Premier League games!

And he wasn’t content with that as he created the second of a Guilherme brace to give us a 2-0 lead against Fulham. We somehow capitulated to gift them two goals to get level, but that man Vickers responded to bag an 86th minute winner! We were suddenly in flying form and seven games unbeaten. That was thanks to Premier League player of the month for November, super Neal Vickers – who scored six goals and got three assists in four games at an average of 8.7, which was closely followed by Guilherme’s five goals and three assists at an 8.2.

Bringing in the big bucks

Having started this save in lowly League 2 in July 2020, the sum of my accomplishments were proven by, 13 years and five months later, being offered a blockbuster new contract by the Bolton Wanderers board. The new deal netted me £90,000-a-week for the next five years. However, my 13-year rule is just over half-way towards the 25-year reign enjoyed by Charles Foweraker between 1919 and 1944 and well short of Bill Ridding’s 18 years at the club between 1950 and 1968.

We celebrated the new contract with a short trip to Old Trafford to face runaway leaders Man United. We started like an absolute freight train, forcing Donnarumma into six saves in the first ten minutes before making it count through Guilherme on 19 minutes – which was our 12th shot! However, United soon regained their composure as superstar striker Leonardo Bustos scored twice and we didn’t muster another shot before half-time. We recovered and Guilherme drew us level thanks to Johnston’s first Premier League assist but Bustos sealed a hat-trick and all three points with a sublime chip. But what an effort to even come close to United, who have 20 players that earn more than our highest earner and spend £266 million a year on wages compared to our £35 million (which remains the lowest in the league).

I made four changes to freshen things up at home to Wolves but one player that never gets rested is Caldwell, and he stepped up with both goals in a 2-1 win. Bizarrely, we then had a 16-day gap before a Boxing Day trip to a strong Everton, where we played pretty fairly well despite losing 3-0.

That took us into the new year sitting nicely in seventh place in the Premier League. We’ve won half of our 18 games so far and have the league’s fourth-best defence with 33 goals. While Guilherme is the second-top scorer in the league with 12 goals and Vickers has the second-highest average rating of 7.62!

Strangely, the year closed out with the third round of the FA Cup at League 1 Walsall. I decided to rest players and made 11 changes, which saw us start terribly before Johnston struck a beauty to score his first Bolton goal. A brilliant moment for the club saw fellow Trotter Talent striker Troy Stevens came off the bench to score on his debut in the 94th minute to nick a 2-1 win!

The duo of Johnson and Johnston have been surprisingly central to our good start to the season. Johnson is our first-choice holding midfielder and has three assists from 14 league starts, while Johnson has played 18 games in all competitions and has a goal and two assists.

Join us next time as we look to build on a strong start to the 2033/34 campaign and for an influx of exciting wonderkids!


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