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Football Manager Experiment: Episode 2

We take our first look at the virtualised fortunes of a cash-rich Wanderers in our Football Manager Experiment

Cash-rich Wanderers wrap up the Championship title
Cash-rich Wanderers wrap up the Championship title

Season one is complete in our first Football Manager Experiment, in which we've given Bolton Wanderers a sugar daddy, a slight reputation boost and given some of our younger players a potential boost. And the unsurprising news is that if we received a summer takeover, Wanderers' fortunes would be totally reversed.

Summer Transfer Window

Having reduced the Wanderers squad down to its current threadbare situation, the onus was on manager Neil Lennon to bring in a few faces, and he didn't disappoint the fans with the number of players brought in. However, the supporters may have questioned the quality of player brought in, as Lennon spent around £3m on the likes of Danny Guthrie, Emmanuel Ledesma, Jak Alnwick, Paul Caddis and Dexter Blackstock in July.

Wanderers then didn't bring in a single player until transfer deadline day, but that drought came to an abrupt end with a transfer blitz that would have had Jim White having palpitations on Sky Sports News. The first big arrival saw hot prospect Jordon Ibe arrive for a cool £15.5m from Liverpool and then, bizarrely, a blitz of signings from Norwich City as Josh Murphy, Gary Hooper, Sebastien Bassong and John Ruddy all arrived at the Macron, for a total of almost £20m.

Lennon continuted the deadline day spending spree by bringing in Fulham's Lasse Vigen Christensen for (10.75m), Massadio Haidara from Newcastle (£7.75m), Chris Gunter from Reading (£1.5m), Fernando Forestieri and Gabrielle Angella from Watford (£4.1m and £7.25m), Ben Marshall from Blackburn (£4.6m), Harlee Dean from Brentford (£4.7m), and finally Manchester United's Nick Powell for an inflated £15m. These signings took Lennon's summer spending total to £87m, so much for financial fair play.

Early Season Form

Wanderers' summer signings took some time to bed into their new surroundings and the club sat in 13th position after five matches, following defeats to Watford and Brighton and a draw at Leeds United, as well as victories over former manager Dougie Freedman's Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough. But the money spent soon paid off as Wanderers then went on a four-match winning streak and found themselves top of the table after nine matches.

In early November, Wanderers suffered the ignominy of a 1-0 home defeat by Wigan, but that loss sparked the side into life and they then embarked on a nine-match winning spree and ten-match undefeated run.

Winter Transfer Window

Wanderers' fine form saw them sitting pretty in second place in the table behind Reading heading into January, who had started the season in fine form. And, keen to see his club rise to the top of the league, Lennon was given further financial backing in the transfer market.

That transfer backing exceeded all previous levels when, on January 9th, Lennon smashed Bolton's transfer record with the £28m signing of Memphis Depay from PSV Eindhoven. That blockbuster signing was supported by a trickle of additional arrivals in the form of Eran Zahavi from Maccabi Tel-Aviv (£1.5m), Ryan Inniss from Crystal Palace (£2.2m), and Ogenyi Onazi from Lazio (£5.25m).

Lennon then began splashing the cash big time with the combined £22m triple signing of Sheffield Wednesday's Liam Palmer and Cardiff CIty's Fabio, and Zoran Tosic from CSKA Moscow. Then he really went for it by blowing £17.75m on Roman Zozulya from Dnipro and £18.5m on Dynamo Kyiv's Eugene Khacheridi.

This transfer window activity took Wanderers' spending for the season to £191m.

End of the Season

The fine run of ten games unbeaten saw Wanderers usurp Reading at the top of table in mid-January, only to be replaced after a dip in form that saw two consecutive defeats to Derby County and Fulham, and three straight draws followed by a 2-0 defeat at title rivals Reading.

Wanderers bounced back with victories over Blackburn, Blackpool and Millwall before suffering a 3-1 defeat at Cardiff, which saw them sitting in second place behind Reading with five matches remaining. But the side were galvanised at the end of the season, winning the next four matches against Norwich, Charlton, Brentford and a vital 3-2 win at Bournemouth.

Going into the final weekend of the season Bolton were top of the league on 91 points, with Reading two points behind and with a much better goal difference. The final game of the season, against Birmingham at home of course, saw a topsy turvy first half in which Bolton took a 27th minute lead through Zahavi, which was cancelled out four minutes later by Chong Te-Se. Depay restored Wanderers' lead from the penalty spot two minutes later, then Birmingham got back on level terms again through Mark Duffy on 29 minutes. Wanderers fans were biting their nails through the second half, but Zahavi struck his second of the game on 74 minutes to seal victory and the title.

Player Performances

The star man of the season was young starlet Zach Clough. The striker racked up 29 goals, 7 assists and 15 man of the match awards in 45 appearances, of which 13 were from the substitutes bench. He notched 21 goals in 38 league appearances, seeing him finish as the fifth top goalscorer in the Championship, and earned the highest average rating in the league, with a 7.84 rating across the season, earning him the Championship Player of the Year award.

Record signing Memphis Depay played 25 games for Wanderers, scoring ten goals and collecting three assists at an average rating of 7.42. Other key performers included Christensen who racked up 12 assists, the third highest in the league, to earn the Championship Young Player of the Year award, and Zahavi, who scored nine times in 19 appearances.

Disappointing performances saw big money transfers Nick Powell and Jordon Ibe struggle to average ratings of just 6.65 and 6.87 in 14 appearances each, while expensive striker Zozulya scored just three goals in 13 matches.

Youngster Progression

Of Wanderers' promising youngsters, other than Clough, the best performer was Oscar Threlkeld, who made a dozen appearances and performed well, with an average rating of 8.40. Josh Vela made 17 appearances but finished the season in the reserve squad, and other than that Max Clayton played twice, while Tom Walker and Conor Wilkinson made just one appearance each. So the days of flooding the side with youth at the Macron seem a long way away.

Next Season

Wanderers' free spending ways have clearly signalled the end of the road for some of our original players, with the likes of Mark Davies, David Wheater, Liam Trotter, Liam Feeney, Jay Spearing, Dean Moxey, Dorian Dervite and Alex Baptiste are all currently transfer listed.

A successful Championship campaign saw Wanderers return to the Premier League for the 2015/16 campaign, and we'll bring you news of how they fair in their first campaign back in the big time in Episode 3 of our Football Manager Experiment.