Our third defence of Bolton Wanderers’ Premier League title had started pretty well as we sat two points clear of free-scoring Manchester United. We also had another Champions League first knockout round clash with Real Madrid to look forward to.
2039 began with a £150 million offer for star midfielder Germán Martínez from Real Madrid, but there seemed very little point in selling him for any fee. Academy product Tim Marshall, who’d been in really poor form, moved to Cardiff for a huge £22.5 million and attacker Darío Bordaberry, who, frankly, is a dickhead, went to Brighton for £30 million. We replaced Bordaberry with Brazilian wonderkid striker Edvan for £13.5 million from Flamengo.
Academy products step up in FA Cup run
The new year began with a backup 11 beginning our defence of the FA Cup by beating Southampton 4-0 in the third round. Academy products starred as Jack Barlow got with two assists, midfielder Andrei Olesk scored his first goal for the club and brilliantly named goalkeeper Lionel Mighty kept a clean sheet on debut. Olesk scored again alongside a brace from Mexican attacker Luis Antonio Nava as our backup 11 beat West Brom 3-0 in the fourth round, then a Dylan Smart hat-trick and a goal and two assists from Barlow sealed a 4-2 win over Sheffield United in the fifth. Smart and Barlow both scored as our reserves beat a full-strength Chelsea 3-0 in the quarters! I kept faith with the youngsters and they did amazingly well to only lose 1-0 to Everton in the semis.
Premier League continues
The first league game of 2039 pitted us against bogey side Everton who, obviously, scored with their first two shots. But we came flying back with goals from centre-back Gonzalo Pereyra and out of form winger Emiliano Sotomayor before half-time. A quiet second half seemed to be petering into a 2-2, only for Martínez to convert a brilliant free-kick on 87 minutes then Marco Manuzzi curled home from long range in injury-time to crown a deserved win.
With record signing Martial Diaby at the Africa Cup of Nations, Barlow got his chance on the right wing. And he well and truly took it with a perfect hat-trick in a 3-0 at home to Aston Villa. This kid looks like being a really special talent who, fingers crossed, could go on to become our first academy graduate to play for England. The only issue is knowing his best position, as he can play right-back, left-back, centre midfield and right wing.
Another academy product Smart scored in a dire 1-1 at Bournemouth before a trip to bottom of the league Middlesbrough, which we somehow only 1-0 with a Luke Johnson penalty despite 18 shots and 3.33 xG. A third successive away game took us to Chelsea, who were struggling a little down in sixth and 23 points behind us, but we’ve only ever won once at Stamford Bridge. And that continued with a 2-2 draw. Two more academy products combined as Luca Godden teed up Barlow for the opener at home to Watford before two Argentinians combined as Sotomayor set up Adrian Biasoli to wrap up a 2-0 win.
We then welcomed West Ham, who’d just signed our former loanee defender George Iordache. The game saw Diaby return and Edvan make his debut, and the former teed up the latter to open the scoring, which proved to be the only goal as West Ham didn’t even have a shot on target. And a 2-0 win at Leicester took us into a huge European clash.
Real Madrid rematch
Last year saw us narrowly defeated by Real Madrid in the first round of the Champions League. And this season, we were again drawn with the Spanish giants. Real, of course, scored with thier first shot but Edvan hit a brace to put us 2-1 up at the break. But from there, it was the Jack Barlow show as the 19-year-old came off the bench to score twice and seal Bolton 4-1 Real Madrid! The away leg saw Madrid – guess what? – score from their first shot but a lovely move ended up with Diaby creating another Edvan goal on half an hour. And that was enough to seal progression to the quarter-finals for the first time.
Our reward was English opposition – unsurprisingly, given five of the eight remaining clubs were English! – up against Spurs, who were 17th in the Premier League. Spurs, randomly now managed by Kingsley Coman, were at home first and we started terribly by gifting them a 2-0 lead inside 18 minutes. But goals from Edvan and Diaby earned a 2-2 draw. Another brilliant creative display from Martínez created first half goals for the same players in the home leg as we snuck through with a 2-1 win.
Annoyingly, we then drew Man City with Chelsea facing Bayern in the other semi. Diaby managed to get himself sent off after 17 minutes of the home leg and we somehow managed to come away with a 0-0 draw. But the away leg saw City sneak through 2-0 after Sotomayor, who’s been awful in the last few months, miss two sitters at 1-0.
Chasing another title
Martínez created the first two goals in a 4-0 win at home to Crystal Palace, which saw him break his own assists record of 16 from last season by late February. That also won him his first player of the month award. And he added two more assists in a 4-0 win at home to Leeds. But our winning streak ended with a wasteful performance in a 1-1 draw at Norwich on the same day Man United drew with Chelsea, which kept us seven points clear with eight games remaining.
But a tough end of season schedule began with games against both our nearest challengers. First was second-place Man City, who dominated the first half and led 2-0. But a switch to a 4-2-4 saw Diaby create two goals in four minutes for birthday boy Edvan and we held on for a huge 2-2 draw. Man United at home then sandwiched the two Spurs games in Europe but we fought through the tiredness as Diaby and a Johnson penalty sealed a 2-0 win. Those results moved us three points clear of City and seven ahead of United with a game in hand and six remaining.
Martínez bagged an assist hat-trick in the first half at Wolves as he racked up seven key passes to inspire a 3-0 win, which took us to a club record 24 games unbeaten in all competitions. City then drew twice and United drew once before our next game at home to West Brom, which we somehow only won 1-0. But that moved us eight points clear with four remaining.
Arsenal had crept into the title battle and we faced a trip to the Emirates either side of the City games in Europe. And that showed as an exhausted team struggled to a 3-0 defeat. We then welcomed Tottenham, who had 32 points and were in the relegation zone with two games remaining – meaning we could play our part in sending them down! Our homegrown players stepped up again as Barlow teed up a Johnson screamer then Olesk laid on a second for Diaby. Spurs got back into it with their only shot of the entire match (how does that always happen?) but Barlow sent in a great cross for Edvan to remove any concerns, before the Brazilian went on to bag a hat-trick and seal a 5-1 thumping.
A few hours after we hammered Spurs, Arsenal lost 2-1 at home to Liverpool. Bolton Wanderers were Champions of England for the fourth successive year!!
The season rounded out with a 1-1 at Southampton, where we lifted a fourth Premier League trophy, before really switching off in an awful 3-1 loss at Liverpool on the final day. More interestingly, Spurs lost 1-0 at home to Everton, which meant they were relegated from the Premier League – 12 months after spending £121 million on a midfielder from Liverpool and a total of £270 million this season!! We, however, finished top with 87 points, scoring 81 goals and conceding 36, and finishing four points clear of Arsenal, who only conceded 26.
Our main man this season has very much been Martínez, who smashed his own club record with 25 assists in all competitions and had the highest average rating of 7.3. He won the fans’ player and young player of the season and is, quite simply, a God.
But it’s been a strange season in which club record signing Diaby finished as top scorer with 17 goals mostly from the right wing. The giant Ivorian won the English Players’ Young Player of the Year as a result. Another impressive performer was January signing Edvan, who scored 11 in 19. But a special mention has to go to academy product Jack Barlow, who was our third-top scorer with 12 goals in 43 appearances, a lot of which were at right-back.
However, there were some really concerning performances from the likes of Manuzzi, who managed just five goals and five assists, Sotomayor, who went four months without scoring at the end of the season, and left-back Edmundo Júnior.
Trotter Talents update
Our homegrown products have played a key role this season. Johnson has again been excellent in midfield and Smart chipped in with goals despite being very inconsistent. But the emergence of Barlow has to be the most exciting academy story so far. I firmly believe he has the talent to go play for England and become a real star player.
We also had another solid youth intake of which the pick was Brazilian goalkeeper Ildemar Testoni (not sure how he ended up in Bolton) and Welsh winger Iwan Sinnott.
A look around England
Bolton, of course, won a fourth title, with Spurs (haha!), Middlesbrough and Wolves going down. Derby won the Championship and Burnley and Brighton were promoted with them, while the Lancashire trio of Preston, Oldham and Wigan went down.
Bristol City won League 1 with Barnsley and AFC Wimbledon getting promoted and Fleetwood, Coventry, Bradford and Hartlepool went down. Doncaster won League 2 and were joined in promotion by Notts County, Burton and Southend, with Scarborough and Salford dropping out of the EFL. Dulwich Hamlet and Accrington were promoted back into it with Altrincham, Kettering, Wealdstone and Halifax going down. They were replaced by Solihull Moors, Fylde, Eastleigh and Hemel Hempstead, while Stafford, Royston, Morpeth, Rushden & Diamonds, Dorking, Maidenhead, Horsham and Bognor Regis dropping out of the playable leagues.
Watford beat Everton 1-0 in the FA Cup Final while City beat Arsenal on penalties to win the Carabao Cup. City also won the Champions League against Bayern and Everton beat Atalanta 1-0 to win the Europa League – which is the seventh year in a row that an English team has won it.
We may be getting close to the end of this save as we’re starting to dominate the English league and, after nearly 14 days of gametime, the game is getting slow. But we’ll definitely push into my 20th season as Bolton manager next time.