Trotters Talent: Part 34 – Premier League Title Challenge

Bolton Wanderers were challenging at the top of the Premier League after a great start to the 2035/36 campaign. Their strong form, with just two league defeats, had been inspired by exciting summer signing Germán Martínez, who already had nine assists, and star striker Guilherme, who had 14 goals in 21 games.

The transfer window saw plenty of interest for our players, the main one being Guilherme attracting a £40 million offer from PSG. One player who did leave was mini-hero of the save Neal Vickers depart the club for £14 million rising to £17.5 million. The academy product utility man made 110 league appearances and scored 27 goals and was excellent for a couple of seasons but has tailed off lately and his contract was running down so we cashed in.

Fellow homegrown player goalkeeper Tim Marshall, who’s now considered “the next Gordon Banks” also attracted bids of up to £20 million from Championship sides, which I duly turned down as he’s just usurped long-serving David Roberts as our number one.

The opening of the transfer window saw yet another influx of 18-year-olds. The pick of them were centre-backs Matej Horak, who cost £3 million from Slavia Prague, and Mustapha Kadir, who cost £1.4 million from Ajax, and left-back Luiz Antonio, who arrived on a free from Fluminense.

Continuing strong league form

A tough Christmas period of four consecutive away games continued with our first match of 2036 taking us to Chelsea on New Year’s Day. That wasn’t helped by Martínez, right-back Jhonatan González and holding midfielder Luke Johnson all being out injured. Despite that, we started strongly as Guilherme’s shot deflected in for an own goal then Emanuel played a delicious curled pass for Sean Caldwell to slam home a second after half an hour. Chelsea, who are down in 10th place, bossed the rest of the game but we defended well to hold on for a 2-0 win that took us top, due to Liverpool losing 1-0 at Wolves.

That win took us to a mighty 16 games unbeaten, which continued with a lucky 1-1 draw at Villa on the same day Liverpool got thumped 4-1 at Watford. But there were now just four points between us and Man City in fourth and just six points between top and sixth. And it perfectly teed up a top vs. second clash at home to Arsenal, in which we again started well with a delicious Mathias Hansen strike that Arsenal striker Rolly Tshiabuabua, who we tried to sign and now always scores against us, equalised. But a rare goal from homegrown left-back Nana Martin four minutes after the break edged a 2-1 win.

Bottom of the league Portsmouth, who had just eight points from 23 games, followed and we eased to a 3-1 win thanks to Caldwell’s early opener and a Guilherme brace. Caldwell’s goal won January goal of the month and he was suddenly back in great form, which saw him score again in a 1-0 win at relegation-threatened Leicester that took us to 20 games unbeaten.

But a big test of that record came at home to Everton, who we’d still never beaten in 10 meetings. But two brilliant passes put an end to that hoodoo. First, Juan Maldonado played a delicious ball for Guilherme to open the scoring inside four minutes then, ten minutes into the second half, Hansen split their defence open for Caldwell to slam home. Everton had a player sent off and Guilherme then his replacement young striker Dylan Smart teed up Jan Neuberg for a brace to make it comfortable and seal our first-ever win over Everton! Liverpool lost again at home to West Brom, which saw our lead at the top grow to six points with 13 games remaining.

Caldwell scored again to cancel out an early Wolves opener, before Guilherme and Smart’s first Bolton league goal sealed yet another win, as our sparkling form continued. The increasingly impressive duo of Neuberg and Guilherme combined for the latter to open the score twice in five minutes and move past 20 for the season before centre-back Gonzalo Pereyra sealed a 3-0 win at home to Watford.

We then had two tough away days, which began with having the best of a trip to Old Trafford, with11 shots to United’s four, but came away with a solid 0-0. That was followed by a trip to Anfield, where we won a penalty for handball after nine minutes that Guilherme smashed home. Liverpool undeservedly turned the game around and won 3-1 despite us having twice as many shots, and our brilliant 24-match unbeaten run was over. But we just about got back to winning ways as Caldwell’s seventh-minute goal was enough for a 1-0 win over Fulham.

Europa League knockouts

My 800th match as Bolton manager came in the second round of the Europa League, as we travelled to Benfica for the first leg. Jonathan got us going with a great 20-yard strike before Luke Johnson repeated the feat just after the break and Darío Bordaberry sealed a big 3-0 away win. That gave me confidence to fully rotate for the home leg, which we somehow lost 2-0 despite having 23 shots to three… but still qualified.

Our reward was a tie against Bayern Munich, now managed by Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer, in the quarter-final. The home leg was up first and Martínez scored his first goal in ages, and just his third of the season, inside two minutes only for them to equalise four minutes later. They took the lead just after half-time and we lost 2-1 despite having 13 shots to six. I rested the first team for league action in the second leg, in which we performed fairly well before they scored a screamer to seal the tie and added another through Yusuf Demir. But a positive saw Trotter Talents Luca Godden and Smart combine for a late consolation.

8 matches from unlikely glory

With eight games to go, Bolton were sitting top of the Premier League. The title was now probably a three-way race between us, Liverpool and City, with six points between first and third. While a home clash against City on the final day could potentially be crucial.

The season run-in began with a first-half onslaught of Bournemouth’s goal, smashing 20 shots to their zero but no goals. Guilherme scored with our first shot of the second half, Hermansen headed home and Emanuel hit a late third for a 3-0 win as we racked up 41 shots to one, which came in the final minute. A tough test followed at eight-place Southampton, where a naughty chip from Guilherme put us ahead after 25 minutes of a very even game. But an awful second half saw us capitulate and lose 3-1.

Two home games against mid-table sides followed, beginning with us missing a host of chances and drawing 0-0 with West Brom. We then welcomed Leeds and Guilherme scored another excellent chip after 20 minutes then doubled his tally following an excellent Caldwell breakaway just before half-time. That sealed a 2-0 win that moved us four points clear of City, who had a game in hand, with four games to go, and ensured we qualified for the Champions League for the first time in Bolton’s history.

Next was a trip to Brighton, against whom we were unbeaten in seven meetings. Brighton started well but we made our opportunities count as Neuberg turned home a Caldwell cross on 25 minutes. Ten minutes later, Caldwell was brought down in the box and Guilherme tucked home. They got a goal back with 10 minutes remaining but immediately got a player sent off and we held on for a 2-1 win.

City lost their game in hand 2-0 at West Brom, which left us four points clear with three games remaining. And suddenly a first-ever league title was well and truly within reach.

The easiest game of our run-in was at home to relegated Sheffield United. A brilliant pass from Martínez teed up Guilherme to get us going after just three minutes before the same pairing doubled the lead five minutes later. The Brazilian wrapped up a 15-minute hat-trick with a sexy backheel and the game was already all over. Guilherme added his fourth and 30th of the season eight minutes into the second half to seal a vital 4-0 win that confirmed the best-ever league finish in the club’s history.

We were four points clear with two games to go but faced seventh-place Spurs away then second-place City at home. The trip to Spurs took place,. and Jhonatan González chose a great time to score his first goal of the season after 22 minutes. The home side dominarted and Marshall stepped up with a huge save early in the second half then Neuberg tucked home a Martínez free-kick with 12 minutes remaining. That had us close and we restricted Spurs in the closing minutes to win 2-0 despite being hammered by 23 shots to seven and conceding 60% of possession.

Nana Martin lifted the Premier League trophy as Bolton Wanderers were Champions of England for the first time in the club’s history!

A season concluding defeat to City can’t overshadow an amazing achievement, as we finished the campaign top of the Premier League on 85 points, three clear of City. We scored 73 goals, only bettered by Liverpool and Arsenal, and conceded 33, only bettered by City’s impressive 21. The league title bagged us £44 million in prize money and took our bank balance beyond £400 million for the first time.

Guilherme was the Premier League top scorer with 30 goals in 38 games, three more than Arsenal’s Tshibuabua. He also came second in the goal of the season for a strike against Man United and I won my first-ever Premier League Manager of the Year award. While Martin, Pereyra, Caldwell, Martínez, Neuberg and Guilherme all made the league’s team of the year.

Season Review

Guilherme was undoubtedly our main man yet again this season. The striker scored 30 league goals and got 12 assists, which won him the fans’ player and young player of the season along with the goal of the season against Man United. He was also won the European Golden Shoe, ahead of PSG superstar Oguzhan Topcu – not bad for a player my coaches think is the fourth-best striker at the club…

But summer signing Martínez has to be the catalyst for taking us to the next level with a club record 14 assists. Neuberg stepped up with 16 goals, Caldwell got eight and youngster Smart scored 11, of which 10 were in cup competitions.

Trotter Talents Update

Homegrown players remained crucial to our title-winning team with six academy products still in the squad and four regular starters. That’ll be increased as homegrown players continue to make their way through the ranks. However, we had another disappointing youth intake, from which the best was left-back Aidan Main.

A look around England

We, of course, were champions of England, but Wolves were relegated for the first time since 2025 along with Sheffield United and Portsmouth. They were replaced by Middlesbrough, who won the Championship, Crystal Palace and Norwich, with Bristol City, Rotherham and Luton going down. That meant our feeder club Leyton Orient stayed up in 18th.

Reading won League 1 with Rochdale and our other feeder club Oldham joining them in promotion. Coventry, Scunthirpe, Doncaster and Port Vale went down. Ipswich won League 2 with Forest Green, Cambridge and Wigan getting promoted and Wrexham and Carlisle dropping out of the league. They were replaced by Grimsby and Scarborough Athletic, who became a league club for the first time since 1999.

Halifax, Guiseley, Solihull Moors and Hampton & Richmond Borough dropped out of the National League. They were replaced by Morecambe, Chorley, Torquay and Bath City with Tamworth, Nantwich, St Neots, St Ives, Hungerford, Merthyr, Grays Athletic and Brightlingsea dropping out of the system.

Liverpool won the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup. Man United won the Europa League 2-1 against our conquerors Bayern and Real Madrid won the Champions League for the second time in this save and the first time since 2023.

Join us next time to see how we go about building a Premier League winning squad and embark on a first-ever Champions League campaign.

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