(FM22) The Quest #7 – Bolton 27/28 Season

Welcome back! Back to back promotions, from League Two to the Championship in two seasons, sounds amazing doesn’t it? It was totally unexpected to be this far up the English pyramid this quick with a team of misfits, those players smashed it last season in League One, however the pressure is on. This team is not good enough for the Championship and to add insult to injury the finances are a disgrace. Can we pull off another miracle? Just staying up would suffice!

Summer of Trouble

With no money the Summer was a shocker. The wage budget was tiny and with the finances in dire straights I couldn’t do anything but aim for frees and loans.

At one point I considered packing my bags, I’d had a couple of interested offers for interviews but after a lot of deliberation I decided to turn both Premier League West Ham and Brighton down.

There we no players sold, that big money sale I really wanted never materialised and I was stuck, so the loan market and young, cheap players were my only option. I won’t go through most of the players, because the truth is only one my loanees lasted the season!

The only Summer incoming who actually stayed in the first team squad the whole season was Central Defender Desmond Harriette, a young player on a season loan from Reading. Central Defence was my main area to improve.

As was in goal and with no real options or money I decided to renew Will Okoye’s loan spell for a second season, he left in the Winter after being recalled.

Other than that there were no other major in’s. I had to go with what I had, the title winning team from last season had to do it in the Championship!

August to October – A positive start!

The season kicked off with the media expecting us to end 2nd bottom, just ahead of Salford, we did however start pretty well. August saw us win 1 of our opening 4 league games which was a stunning 4-0 away win over Cardiff!

In the League Cup we had started really well with wins over Hull and Wigan to get us into the 3rd Round.

September also went OK but you could see the cracks appearing. We edged through the League Cup with a penalty shootout win over Walsall but in the League form was dropping, we had gained only 4 points from 4 games, it was enough though to have us sitting in 13th spot.

Then came October, it started well with 2 wins in our first 3 games, both wins were against teams we came up with last season and both 1-0. Then the wheels came off, 3 straight defeats ended the month, 2 in the league, the other, was a 2-0 loss to Premier League Southampton in the League Cup.

Overall though we had started OK, 14 points from our opening 13 games. Over a point a game which SHOULD keep us up.

November to December – Wobbling!

November actually wasn’t too bad. We only lost 1 game which was against League leaders Wolves. 2 wins and 3 draws completed the month as we seemed to be edging away from the drop zone.

Then came the major wobble! December was a disaster, fitness issues were rife, players moaning about wanting new contracts which I couldn’t afford and morale was at rock bottom.

We ended December with no wins and only 1 points from 6 games. We had dropped away to 19th place and were literally a couple of points from the bottom 3.

Winter Woes but a big sale!

The window opened and immediately a huge bid came in, it was the one we needed, the finances were in an awful mess, we had lost £3m over the opening months and the bank balance was down at -£2m.

A £6.5m bid came in for superstar CM Luke Thomas and I had to say yes, the good news was he would stay with us on loan for the rest of the season. This meant I could now go out and properly improve the squad. Upfront we were dreadful, out wide we were woeful and all my loan players, bar Harriette had been recalled.

By the end of January we had dropped into the bottom 3 as we only won 1 of our 4 league games. We had also been knocked out of the FA Cup but that came with good news. A 7-3 away defeat to Manchester United gave us another £1.3m to add to the bank balance. The coffers were now looking good with £5.5m in the bank.

The squad needed improving though, I had to spend and bring in better quality and I did exactly that.

A new Striker was my one big requirement, Hussain was doing awful and Parsons was playing better on the right wing. I made my biggest signing in the save so far, signing Gaz Brady from Norwich for £525k. He was the best player I could bring in and I have to say I like what I see!

We were also struggling at full back. Dan Butler on the left was declining quickly and I only really had Mallon on the right. Tom Hamer came in from QPR for £195k, he can play either side and even in central defence.

Young Midfielder/Winger Will McArthur came in from Doncaster for £225k. A lad I’d looked at a few times but couldn’t afford the transfer fee. He is on a small wage and adds much better depth to the squad than the recalled loanees did.

With Will Okoye being recalled I needed a new first choice goalie, again it was a massive struggle to find the right man and I eventually took a risk with Magnus Norman from Birmingham, he costs me £105k. Not the greatest but an improvement on what I had.

And finally, the best signing in my opinion was midfielder Max Bird, he came in from Derby for £52k, an amazing deal and a lad that hugely improves my options in midfield.

Now the squad looked better but morale needed to improve and the only way of doing that was to get results. As the Window slammed shut and February kicked in things did not get better. February was another disaster!

5 games, 4 points, it just wasn’t enough and we had now slipped right down the table. We sat in 23rd with 11 games left, the table was tight though but we somehow had to turn the form around.

March to May – Can miracles happen?

A team meeting was called at the start of March. I knew the lads had it in them to turn this around. With the new additions well and truly bedded in and players fitness levels back to normal we had to go for it.

I went back to basics with my tactic, the Dorking tactic that had worked so well had maybe had too many tweaks, I went back to the original base and what happened next was truly stunning!

In March we played 4 games and gained 7 points, wins over Derby and Blackburn had propelled us back out of the bottom 3 and now morale was picking up!

Then came April and my word I have no idea what happened! The miracle of all miracles appeared and eventually the likes of Callum Hussain and Lewis Armstrong, who had really not impressed so far decided to turn up and send us on our best run of the season, just when we needed it.

April ended with 5 wins and a draw from our 6 games and 4 consecutive clean sheets. After 35 games we sat 23rd, 10 games later we were up to 15th with one game to go!

The upturn in form can only be put down to the team meeting at the start of March, morale at that point was at rock bottom. I told them we could do it, we just had to believe in ourselves, they all agreed and the morale shot up and then the results came! Sensational!

The season finale did end with a 2-1 home defeat to Forest but at that point it didn’t matter, safety had been guaranteed games ago!

What a turnaround in form! 23 points from our final 11 games, that’s playoff form!

With that we had ended the season in 15th place with 52 points. I gave myself a target of 46 points to finish the season with, somehow we had beaten it!

Key Men

Defender Darren Rogers ends as the player of the season, he was one of only 3 players to average over 7. It was a great season for Rogers, he has massively improved in the past 12 months and is now by far my best player.

Top goalscorer was Left Winger Lewis Armstrong, once again goalscoring was a major issue and this just highlights it. Armstrong ends with 10 goals, 8 of those were scored in the final 13 games of the season!

And here’s issue number 2! Most assists goes to forward Richard Parsons with 5!! 5 assists, the most in the squad! Shocking! I do like this lad though, he had a few injuries through the season but overall he did well.

And here is the whole squad.

Next Season

Overall I have to be happy with this season, we came into the league totally unexpected with no money and tiny budgets. We have the lowest wage budget in the league by a long way, even less than Salford.

Things aren’t going to get any better. The money made from Luke Thomas has gone because of the ridiculous amount of money we are losing each month. So once again we are going to be working with limited resources, the budgets reflect that with a very small wage budget increase from £85k p/wk to £93k p/wk and a transfer budget of £344k, this is just not enough but with the stupid bank loans we have you can see why.

The big issue this Summer is trying to keep players happy, a large amount of them are asking for wage rises, currently Parsons is my highest paid player on £5k per week. The likes of Koiki, Simons, Armstrong and many more are asking for wage rises double that and we just cannot afford it!

So I have to either hope they don’t ask and if they do they are happy with a no, or I move them on but with that comes another issue, if I sell these players I have to replace them and those players, the ones who will improve my squad will want wages way above what Parsons is on.

So I’m in a catch 22 situation! Either way I may have to cave in and spend some more on wages that I really want, or I get rid and have to bring in lesser quality players or young players with little to no experience!

The struggle is real!

There is another option, the nuclear option and that’s leaving. I’ve had a few interview offers this season from Premier League sides in both England and Scotland but I wanted at least a season here in the Championship before making that decision. Maybe it’s time to think like I did at Dorking and admit I’ve maybe taken Bolton as far as I can and look for pastures new, it will have to be a pretty big offer though. There’s no point in taking over a top level Championship team or a low level Premier League team, I may as well stay here and see what I can do. If I am going to leave it’s going to have to be a job I cannot refuse!

And Finally

Nothing really interesting happening in the World of FM at the moment, it was interesting however to see Wycombe in the National League, a quick drop!

In Europe it was back to back Champions League for Bayern Munich and an English domination in the 2 other European competitions!

Thanks for reading.

Steve/LutterworthFox

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