My god is it that time again already! Seems like only yesterday I was sat in my front room, watching on the TV as Lloyd Isgrove picked Tony Craig’s pocket to sprint forwards and seal our promotion from Sky Bet League 2. I jumped for joy as my Dad legged-it from the room to put a bottle of champagne on ice for us to drink at the end of the game some ten minutes later. The house was a cauldron of noise including raucous cheers, improvised player chants and Dion’s ‘The Wanderer’ blaring out of our living room speakers on repeat.
It was a fun way to enjoy a promotion, but it will pail in comparison to actually being in our West Stand Upper seats this coming Saturday when we face MK Dons for the 2021/2022 season’s curtain-raiser at the Reebok. The last time I saw Bolton in the flesh was December 15th, 2020, away at Cheltenham, a memorable night to say the least (well, it was memorable before the post-match drinks at least). But there’s no place like home and I, like all of you reading this, cannot wait to be back.
The start of the season is always exciting and this year’s League One looks to be hugely competitive and maddeningly unpredictable. Nevertheless, Eddie has yet again asked us to humiliate ourselves by attempting to predict how things will pan out for Wanderers over the course of the season. I was right in saying we’d go up last time, I hope I am proven right again…
Reuniting Declan John and Dapo Afolayan to recreate the most exciting left flank in the league from last year was crucial for us to have a good season this year. Ian Evatt has kept the majority of the squad that earned promotion from League Two to end years and years of consistent summer overhauls of the playing squad, but there are some standout additions alongside the returning DJ and Dapo. Josh Sheehan looks like a great signing, cut from the same cloth as Kieran Lee to be our technician in the midfield, despite the fact he lacks the former Sheffield Wednesday man’s pedigree.
With that in mind, and despite the fact I rate Sheehan highly (if only because he’s Welsh), my pick as ‘Best Signing’ is going to be George Johnston. It’s always nice to get one over on Wigan by signing someone they were desperate for, God knows they did it to us in 2016 with Alfie, and from the glimpses we have see of the former Feyenoord man he looks like the perfect Yin to Ricardo Santos’ Yang. With Rico providing calmness on the ball and dominance in the air, Johnston will be able to fly into tackles, use his excellent skills when reading the game and his natural left-footedness to form what I believe will be a superb ‘Dynamic Defensive Duo’ for Wanderers. I’m very excited to see him play.
Probably the easiest on this list seeing as we have only one player currently in the squad who can be considered a natural goal scorer. Eoin Doyle did exactly what he was brought in to do last season, scoring the goals that got us promoted. He, and some fans alike, may be disappointed that he only managed 19, but when you have been starved for almost two decades for a regular goal scorer as us Bolton fans have been, 19 will do for me.
I think it’ll be a much tougher test of his abilities this season with him another year older and the higher standard of competition that League One has become this season, but I back him to be the best of the bunch in our scoring ranks. Honourable mentions go to both Antoni Sarcevic and the returning Dennis Politic, both of whom I think will get close to double figures for goals if played regularly.
Game you are most looking forward to
It would be very easy to say Wigan, and I am looking forward to it hugely. However, it’s not at the top of my list, and that list is a two-way tussle that I am finding it very difficult to decide upon.
Sheffield Wednesday away is always one that I have done when we have been in the same league. I’ve seen us lose twice, win three times and draw once, with each game providing some great memories (apart from the 1-0 loss when Clayton Donaldson missed a sitter, of course). It will be nice to go back to a city I love and reminisce about Sparky’s amazing solo goal and even Liam Trotter’s thunderbolt from 2014. Aaron Wilbraham’s ‘other’ Bolton goal wasn’t too bad either!
The other on my list is Wycombe Wanderers away. Our day out there may have ended in defeat in 2019, but it was amazing to see our fans unite behind our club, a club that we thought we may never get to watch live again. We were treated brilliantly by our hosts, saw one of the best centre-half performances ever from Yoan Zouma and had some great banter with Ade ‘The Beast’ Akinfenwa. I can’t wait to go again and, hopefully, get a good result to go with the great day out I am sure it will be.
Opposing player you would love at Bolton
Stephen Humphrys. I want Stephen Humphrys to play for Bolton. I do not want Stephen Humphrys to play for Wigan. It greatly upsets me. Moving on…
Key Player this season
“There’s a staaaaar maaaaan, playing for the Whites! His name is Afolayan and he’s f****** dynamite!”
Dapo is, without question, one of the most gifted players we have had in years. Sammy Ameobi had superb feet that could get him out of even the tightest of corners, but you got the sense that even he didn’t know what he was going to do next. When Dapo beats a man, it’s deliberate, it’s well-executed and it looks very, very easy. He tore Blackburn to pieces last weekend and it’s great to see him playing with such confidence.
I was asked recently as to what I thought was the reason behind why it has taken a while for him to find both regular football and form, and it occurred to me that when he was signed it was to be a supplementary striker to ease the pressure on Eoin Doyle. If everyone has been playing Dapo up-front in his career, then it’s not hard to see why he is only now showing what he can do. He’s a superb winger who has found a home at Bolton and I couldn’t be happier. If he can add goals to his game, he will be the scariest prospect in League One.
First Six Games
To avoid confusion, imagine that Bolton are always the home team in the score line:
MK Dons (H) 2-0
AFC Wimbledon (A) 1-0
Lincoln City (A) 1-1
Oxford United (H) 1-1
Cambridge United (A) 1-0
Burton Albion (H) 0-1
Final league position
I don’t think we are good enough as yet to be considered challengers for promotion. However, I certainly think we are good enough to be there or thereabouts come January. If, let’s say, we are in 10th come the January window, I imagine that Football Ventures will, as they did last season, release some extra funds to improve the squad. There isn’t a huge amount of money available as our summer business has demonstrated, but I think there is definitely scope for us to give the second half of the season a real push after January.
When you add into the equation the fact that the main promotion contenders in League One have new and unfamiliar squads, that we play some of the best football in the league and will be backed by a lot more fans than the majority of clubs, I believe that is a cocktail for success.
As such, I believe we will finish in 5th and be promoted via the Play-Offs.
Both Sunderland and Wigan will finish in mid-table. Sunderland have good players but still look hugely disjointed as a squad and Wigan have ‘done a Salford’ and signed mercenaries who won’t gel together nor bring the success that their fans believe that they will. Charlie Wyke has had a front-row seat while Will Grigg has put his feet up on a cushy deal at Sunderland. It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see him do the same at Wigan.