Here we are ladies and gents, the EFL Championship with a League 1 standard squad. When I started this challenge, I predicted promotion to this league after my third season but I’m exceeding that by a season at this point. Consecutive promotions is not unfound of in the EFL leagues but now comes the time when my bottle really will be tested. £0 transfer budget but an improvement in our wage budget will give us movement in the free agent and loan markets.
We’ll have a look at the returning squad for pre-season, pre-season results, the transfer window and also the July & August results as we try to get going in the league – the target is 50 points over the season which should secure our safety so we’re looking at around 17 points every 15-16 games on average.
In the returning squad for pre-season you may spot a new face in goalkeeper George Long who was signed on a free from Hull City following his contract expiring. He will be our new number 1 as Billy Crellin has gone back to parent club Fleetwood after a 2 year loan.
Decent size squad although a few of the younger players will be loaned out for the season as they are just not ready for this league. Toti Gomes & Scott Banks remain on loan with us this season after extensions agreed with Wolves and Crystal Palace. In terms of players I want to bring in, I’ll be looking for a striker who can also play wide, improvements in our midfield 3 and I’d like a new face or two in defence.
For those wondering the formation and tactic remains as 4-3-3 DM wide with custom wing play for now, only change I have made so far is amending the mentality to cautious. I’m likely to add a more defensive formation too as there are some good teams in this league who have some real quality players.
I didn’t go mad with the friendlies this pre-season unlike last year, due to the fact the league was starting on the 23rd July?! Seems to get earlier every year but then it is the year of the Qatar 2022 winter World Cup (absolutely ridiculous) meaning we will miss a few weeks of games towards the end of the year!
The board even sent on tour to Scotland! With our finances probably an ibis budget stay but a bed is a bed. A win and a draw north of the border vs. Partick and Motherwell, good squad rotation with last season’s loan players making their last appearances for the club (bar Banks & Toti Gomes).
It was then back to Bolton for a decent 1-0 win vs. fellow promotion winners Blackpool and picking up a comfortable 2-0 win vs. Chesterfield who are a couple of leagues behind us. Parent club Arsenal gave us a bit of a hiding again with a 4-1 loss but that was expected and then a different vibe with an entertaining 2-2 draw with Belgian side St. Truidense V.V. (STVV).
A decent productive pre-season where we got to practice our cautious wing play 4-3-3 DM wide and also a new formation 5-2-1-2 with vertical tika taka. I have said before I’m not a fan of 5 at the back and that remains however, it could prevent a few hard beatings against the top teams in the Championship.
The Transfer Window
Going into this window I had a plan of what I wanted and where we needed to improve but ultimately the promotion pay rise sitting at around 20-30% throughout most of the squad, our extra £20k in the wage budget more or less halved. There were quite a few free agents I discovered and 2 who I really wanted in Shane Lavery (AMRL/ST) from Linfield and Andy Cannon (CM) from Portsmouth both rejected me for Middlesbrough and Preston which was a real set back.
Furthermore, Dan Butler and Simon Murray both came to me asking for new contracts which after their team of the season performances is more or less a fair judgement from both players. Butler currently earning 2.5k p/w I was expecting a 2k wage hike (the board were now allowing a max of 5k for a player) but the wing back had other ideas asking for 8k p/w. I tried to drop it but he wouldn’t go below 7k p/w which the board won’t allow so there is one unhappy player going into the last year of his contract. Murray who was on 2k p/w had asked for 5k p/w. Yes we could afford it however, he was rated at 2.5 star at this level and I felt 3.5k p/w was a fair reflection…he rejected it straight away.
So 2 players reject us for other clubs and 2 starters have had enough, safe to say the frustration was very real. We did however, end up securing 5 players on frees and 2 loans with a shed load of players being sent out on loan and one being sold for the biggest fee I’ve received so far in the save.
As mentioned earlier, George Long (GK) joined from Hull, 18 year old Charlie Patino (A/MC) was loaned from Arsenal, Matt Crooks (CM) released by Rotherham got on board too. These three came in before the season started and I was happy to boast central midfield but still no defensive improvements.
17 year old Ed Hurst joined on a free from Welsh side T.N.S after he was found on a month to month contract at his former club. 2 star rating potential of 4, he will spend time with the U18s. Last four days of the window was hectic, controversial wing back/winger James McClean joined on a free and after a summer long battle with free agent Alex Gogic (CB, DM) the former Hibernian player agreed a deal for 2 years. Tyrese Omotoye (AMRL/ST) joined for the season from Norwich on loan, 3.5 star player at 19, he could be big for us this season.
As mentioned numerous players loaned out mostly younger players who I need to see their ability and potential at the end of the season before making a decision on keeping or selling them. Striker Bright Amoateng and winger Dennis Politic are excused from that, both have first team potential but they are not ready for this level.
The sale of Brandon Comley wasn’t planned at the start of the window. Huddersfield came in with a bid of £150k but I wasn’t interested, they then came back again with £220k which was a bit more convincing but I like to chance my arm so I asked for £500k non-negotiable and they done just that! This triggered the push to get Alex Gogic in as a starter at DM.
All in all it was a good window but did have its frustrations. Would have liked another centre back but there’s always that possibility later in the season.
It was time to start the season and we had two tough leagues fixtures to get us going and a carabao cup first round tie against league 2 opposition.
Watford still have a very good team 3 seasons in, seemed to have retained well bar one or two players so the quality was there. I went with the 5-2-1-2 formation which essentially acted as damage limitation losing 1-0. Carabao Cup first round was as expected with a comfortable 2-0 win vs. Scunthorpe to get us into the hat for the next round. Up next was a team we beat in the FA Cup third round last season, Millwall. Switching back to 4-3-3 DM wide we just couldn’t get going in front of goal ultimately wasting possession and being punished, losing 2-0.
Okay so no points on the board but it is very early on, although I would’ve liked at least a point vs. Millwall but we don’t dwell on it, we crack on!
Plenty more league action this month with 5 games and the second round of the Carabao Cup, lets try and get some points on the board.
My side had Derby in the league and then the cup straight after so we would definitely get to learn more about them over both games. Sticking with the 4-3-3 DM wide we grab a brilliant 3-1 win in the league with Afolabi getting his first 2 goals for the club in the process. In the cup I rotated…they didn’t. Its clear our opposition wanted revenge. Our rotated side held Derby to 1-1 after 90 minutes and then we finally broke the penalty curse running out 4-2 winners on pens. The shootout drought is finally over.
Up next was Birmingham and we grab a 1-0 win making it 3 wins on the bounce in all comps and a very good start to August. However, we were unlucky not to get a share of the points vs. Brentford losing 2-1, we just weren’t clinical enough. On the contrary, a lucky draw with Peterborough (1-1), scoring one of our few chances on the counter but its another early point for us. Then our first commanding league victory beating Wycombe 3-0, the boys were fully in control of this one and deserved the result.
10 points from a possible 15 is good going beating some good teams there edging us closer to 17 point target for every third of the season.
So a very good start from my Bolton side, sitting 11th on goal difference after 7 games and respectable stats of 3W/1D/3L. Saying that a loss can make you fall quite a few places depending on other results but its all about taking it game by game and adapting to each team we face to try to at least grab a draw, especially against the better teams in the league.
Next we will be focusing on September through the end of November, quite a few games over these months but also a break in November due international teams preparations for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Hopefully we will be able to carry on holding our own and see what challenges we will have to overcome in the process.
While you are exploring the DP-FM site, go take a look at Louis’ (Co-blogger/creator of DP-FM) challenge where he is embarking on his series ‘Unemployed, Unskilled & Inexperienced’. This entails Louis starting from the bottom of his management career with no coaching badges and low attributes to add to the fun! The link is right here – https://dpfmblog.com/2020/12/21/unemployed-unskilled-inexperienced-season-1-episode-1/
Hope you enjoyed the start of our EFL Championship adventure and make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the next episode, take care guys!