Bolton Back To Europa S6E3 – Squad + Depth = Winning Formula?

Welcome back one and all, the winter period is upon us and it is always the busiest episode of a season but I absolutely love taking you through this part of the season because usually it’s all going on.

In episode 2, the form was tough and after 2 wins in our first 14 games and I had made a change to a 4-4-1-1 Custom Counter courtesy of FM tactics king – @RdfTactics. I was hoping that this would bring us some wins over the rest of season.

In this one we will cover the months of December, January and February, the winter transfer window where I took a few risks using our remaining budget for the season and some general other bits that occurred over this 3 month period.

December 2025

A lot of league action and a repeat of last season’s Carabao Cup Quarter Final as we face Reading once again who are residing in the EFL Championship.

Southampton were welcomed to Bolton and we got a long awaited victory (1-0) after knocking on the door for 83 minutes until the main man Tarrelle ‘The Bagsman’ Whittaker done what he does best. This was more relief than anything as I need the boys to get some confidence back.

8 games without a win is a very long time in football – some Managers get the boot for such things! Back to the games and we had a crazy 3-3 draw with Norwich. After going 1-0 down, Jonathan Afolabi & Shane McNeill gave us a 2-1 lead. ‘The Canaries’ then took a 3-2 lead by the 65th minute until Uriel Antuna popped up with a 85th minute equaliser, emotions everywhere.

Up next was a very capable Leicester who beat us 1-0. Squad tiredness kicked in as a few injuries left minimal options, we didn’t really threaten throughout this one. Carabao Cup quarter final time against Reading who we faced at the same stage last year. This year wasn’t as straight forward as again we go to penalties for the second round in a row after a 2-2 draw after FT, a Nicholas Opoku header and a Conor Chaplin penalty got our goals. Once again we hold our resolve advancing 4-3 on penalties thankfully.

Reassurance was restored for the time being after a 4-2 victory against Brighton in a very postive performance. Tarrelle ‘The Bagsman’ Whittaker & Uriel Antuna with a brace each. Antuna also scored the pick of the goals with a looping drive from 22 yards – it was tasty. On the contrary, Wolves brought us back down to earth beating us 2-0. Again, tiredness kicked in and I began to realise that the current squad depth is effecting the team with the quicker turnarounds.

Still, an important 7 points on the board as we continue to battle for safety in the league. Some promising news in December also as the youth intake projection looks quite handy this season!

January 2026

This month was just absolute carnage, games flying about absolutely everywhere which made transfers a bit more difficult but we’ll get into that after the results.

A positive start to the month drawing 1-1 with Liverpool, a first half lead through Tarrelle Whittaker but there was only so much pressure we could take conceding late on. FA Cup third round next against Rotherham United who we saw off with a 3-1 victory, mostly in control this match with the goals coming from Shane McNeill, Jude Russell (first for the club) & Conor Chaplin. However, an answer to a certain question in the presser made me chuckle..

I mean, who wouldn’t swap Conor Chaplin for Kylian Mbappe ay?

So our Carabao Cup semi final opponents was Manchester United, we’ve had a relatively easy draw so far and it was probably due to have such opponents. Losing the first leg 4-2, we started well through Tarrelle Whittaker‘s strike and ended well when Shane McNeill grabbed a goal but everything in between that was hard to watch shall we say…just dominated by them for 70 minutes.

A bit of a tough run in the league came and although there’s some tough teams within these games, squad tiredness was really bad at this point and really effecting team performance. It started with 1-0 loss to Newcastle which was frustrating as they were in the same area of the table but generally a poor performance from us. Then came a 3-0 defeat against Chelsea, it was always going to be a struggle but the opposition remained in control for the 90 minutes. However, a battling performance earned us a 2-2 draw vs. Spurs who are having a mid-table struggle this season. Going down twice, Lucas Da Cunha made it 1-1 before a point earning equaliser from Uriel Antuna. Manchester City piled on more misery in our next game, supplying a 3-0 loss where again the difference in quality shone through as we just battled to keep the score line down.

Two cups games to finish the month, first up was a 4th round FA Cup match against Ipswich Town which brought a comfortable 2-0 win. Two Conor Chaplin zingers from outside the box got the job done as we progress. We would need some magic in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi final but it wasn’t meant to be as a 3-2 loss to Manchester United sends us crashing out at the last hurdle before the final. A spirited performance by the boys who battled away but goals from Tarrelle ‘The Bagsman’ Whittaker & Antonio (New signing) was not enough on this occassion.

And breathe…crazy month with really up and down form, main concern was the amount of points lost in the league but the transfer window section will give some clarity to this.

January Transfer Window

Coming into January, I had realised one thing and that was that I sold the squad short in the summer window. Whilst I brought in players, I didn’t pay too much attention to the squad depth and it was effecting performance as sometimes there just wasn’t players there to do proper rotations causing tired performances. There was money left in the bank so I had to bring in some quality to boost the squad.

Young attacker (20) Bryan Morgan came in on a free from Crusaders following his contract expiration to develop with the U23s. The same with 19 year old midfielder Antonio who joined from Santos on a free, he looks to be a very good player for his age as well. I decided to bring in a new back up ‘keeper just to boost the quality and Matej Kovar joins from Man Utd for a cheap £72k. Kovar was transfer listed and looked to have solid attributes for the role of a back up.

Probably my most impressive transfer was signing creative midfielder Riqui Puig for £3.5m from Marseille. Originally a Barcelona player of course, this was a massive coup for the club after falling out with his former club, allowing us to swoop in for a cheap fee. A new left back was brought in, Leif Davis signed from Stoke for £4.9m. Pricier than I have been spending but prices from English clubs are usually a bit inflated, my scouts were raving about this player to me however. Another creative midfielder in Alex Robertson joined from Man City for £80k. At 22 years old, Robertson still has time on his side and will play for the U23s while training with the first team.

Two major deadline days signings, the first being centre back Kaique Rocha from Aston Villa for £2.1m. I wanted more competition in this area and this will provide just that giving more of a fight for starting places. The last signing of the month was versatile left sided player Will Ferry who signs from Stoke for £3.1m. Ferry can play left back, left midfield and higher up on the wing but this probably more than I wanted to pay but I was keen due the options he can give us.

Departure wise there was a few key ones, Hari Harvey was recalled from Reading after being used sporadically and loaned back out to Aberdeen for hopefully a lot more game time, former back up goalkeeper George Long dropped back down to League 1, signing for AFC Wimbledon for £220k. Lloyd Greenwood joined Peterborough for £850k following his transfer request after the falling out with his contract renewal – a shame but nobody overrules the boss! 3rd goalkeeper Ondrej Mastny joins Cheltenham on loan for some game/development time and left back Sean Elstone-Coyle joins Newport County on loan as it was quite clear he is not ready for Premier League football.

A very busy window all in all although I’m happy with the players we’ve been able to bring in and the players who have left permanently or out on loan for development. There was some crazy deals in January too with Bolton being the most active in the Premier League!

February 2026

Now that we have the depth and the players to support our 4-4-1-1 formation, I was hoping for some upturn in form this month. For context, we were 18th in the league at the start of this month.

Well, would you look at that?! It’s been a good year or so since we had a month like this! We went to Sheffield United and came away with a 2-0 win. Great composed performance from the boys as Lucas Da Cunha & Tarrelle Whittaker grab the goals for the 3 points. The Burnley match was very edgy, end to end stuff but we managed the breakthrough thanks to Lucas Da Cunha once again. We held out for the 1-0 win and our goalkeeper Daryl Kandola was in great form as he has been most of this season. Kandola’s asking price is judged at £74m by the coaching staff which shows how important he is to me.

I’d happily have him instead of Courtois these days anyway! Our next match was against Leeds United who were very tough to play in the reverse fixture. Easily our best performance of the season, running out 4-0 winners! Every attack we looked dangerous and Tarrelle Whittaker done bagsman things grabbing a hattrick with new centre back Kaique Rocha got his first goal for the club. The impressive month finished with a 2-1 win over 7th placed West Ham in a defensively sound performance as the team did not crack when ‘the Hammers’ got a goal back. Lucas Da Cunha was at it again with a brace, it seems signing Will Ferry as competition has boosted his performances!

Amazing month, gaining 12 points from a possible 12 as the new squad depth has definitely seen a massive improvement in performances.

League Table

February’s form lifted us a huge 6 places to 12th as we give ourselves an all important 8 point cushion over the relegation zone. We are also only 8 points away from the standard survival points haul of 40! Wolves had a shock win vs. Man Utd in the Carabao Cup final meaning they’ve secured a place in the UEFA Europa Conference next season.

Takeover Talks…Again

Two takeover rumours followed in quick succession at the end of February, whilst they were shut down this usually the start of the process. Of course we had something similar in episode 1 of this season, after that the board’s vision was they wouldn’t relinquish control of the club but now the view is a potential takeover is pending.

I’d like the current owner to stay as they’ve worked wonders since taking over at the end of season 4, I’d feel slightly unstable at this point of the save as there’s always the potential of being sacked when a new owner comes in…especially when I’m one step away from the goal of the save!

What’s Next?

10 games to go in the league and whilst we have some breathing space, safety is not mathematically secured yet so that is the aim. We are still in the FA Cup too but Tottenham are our opposition so not an easy one if we were to progress. Lets just hope that the February form carries on with the new look squad and who knows where it will take us!

Whilst 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’ which is currently on season 8. This entails Louis starting from the bottom of his management career with no coaching badges and low attributes to add to the fun!

To go from the start – https://dpfmblog.com/2020/12/21/unemployed-unskilled-inexperienced-season-1-episode-1/

Or to go from the current season – https://dpfmblog.com/2021/03/22/unemployed-unskilled-inexperienced-s8-ep-1-premier-league-preparations/

Thanks as always for reading guys, appreciate every single one of you, make sure you take care out there and I’ll be back with the season finale soon!

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