Bolton Back To Europa S7E3 – The Return of Wing Play

Welcome back everyone, it’s that busy time of the season which is the winter period as the games start flowing, testing every teams’ squad depth. Whilst it is a good period to pick up a lot of points, it is also a tough period in terms of sustaining form.

As the title suggests, a trusted tactic is brought back with a couple of amendments to the player roles, there are lots of results to get through with some twists and turns, we have a very quiet January transfer window with other various bits of news to get through as well.

As there is quite a bit going on outside of the results each month, I’ll breakdown the results for the subject month before moving on to the news for same month.

December 2026

It’s all league games in December with what looks to be a tough month in terms of the teams we face.

And it was tough results wise as well as you can all see. December started well when my side travelled to face Norwich and came away with a 2-0 win. A game that we controlled well and we got the rewards through a Jorge brace. A frustrating game came against Newcastle next in a 2-2 draw where we couldn’t close out the game. After going 1-0 down, we replied immediately before taking the lead – goals coming from Mateusz Musialowski & Jorge. It wasn’t meant to be as the boys missed a series of chances before Newcastle’s 80th minute equaliser, I vented my frustrations to the squad after.

Things started getting tougher as Leicester travelled to Bolton and left with the points beating us 2-1. It was a bright start when Lucas Da Cunha gave us the lead but that deteriorated when we allowed Leicester to break us down time and time again, giving away two cheap goals. Another loss came against Spurs who got past us narrowly, beating my side 1-0. We normally give Spurs a game and have beaten them a couple of times in the past but the desire just wasn’t there from us in this one, a very disappointing result.

Last of the month was Manchester City which was always going to be hard fixture and again this brought a 1-0 loss. Don’t get me wrong, it was a better performance than the last two games but its as if the attack are running out of ideas as we kept losing the ball in key areas going forward.

No doubt that wasn’t an ideal month, 4 points out of a possible 20 when you’re chasing a highly ambitious Europa League spot is not good enough regardless of who you are playing. December did bring us to the half way point of the league season and luckily teams around us dropped points too, which allowed us to stay in the top 7 but it is very tight points wise!

A couple of other bits going in December, it started with our youth intake projection but by the sounds of things, this seasons’ didn’t look too promising for us unfortunately.

We also got our first of two jobs offers in this episode, again it was a very appealing option but I am a one club man and will see Bolton through to our goal of European football!

January 2027 Transfer Window

As mentioned in the intro, this season’s winter window was very quiet with no new first teamers coming into the squad. Why? you may ask and it’s a very plausible question but I have a one word answer for you all – FAITH. I love my squad this season and I have faith that they will see us through to the goal of the save, I also have the confidence in myself to carry out the job too…of course this could backfire but it’s no fun without taking risks!

Team cohesion is improving and we’ve played better football this season compared to last with this group of players. In a sense we did have one new addition which was Alex Robertson who was bought for £80k at this point last season and was loaned out. He’s come back a star rating better and is now in first team contention.

A very handy creative player and I’m looking forward to see how he settles into the squad and can hopefully bring us a new dimension going forward. In the meantime, lets see how the quiet window looked like for us.

One newcomer in the form of 18 year old centre back Steven Whelan who was signed on a free from Crusaders in Northern Ireland. Still some work to do technically but time is definitely on his side and we kicked off his development by sending him on loan to Dundee in Scottish Premiership.

The two outgoings were former first team players, the first being Jonathan Afolabi who joins South Korean side Jeonbuk Hyundai for £10m. Afolabi left on loan to Blackpool earlier in the season and couldn’t get it going there, much like his time with Bolton but I was amazed to get that sort of offer for him! Uriel Antuna joins Tenerife for £1.2m after falling out of favour this season. Antuna made a great account of himself last season but ultimately the competition of Shane McNeill & Mateusz Musialowski on the right wing proved too much for him and I believe all good players deserve to be playing football regardless of where it’s at.

January 2027

It was a new year and it only meant one thing for me (once I had decided of course), that the much coveted tactic of this series – 4-3-3 wing play would make a return. As much as the counter formations have given us joy, I felt we were at a stage where the squad was good enough to move back to wing play with a positive mentality on the pitch. A stronger squad than last season and better options in the areas the tactic requires, I felt the team was ready to take the plunge with this trusted tactic once again.

There are a few player role changes with the right back being changed for a wing back to full back as Ansorge plays better in that role, plus the box to box midfielder plays that side who of course works up and down the pitch.

There is no defensive midfielder this time as I sold them all in past windows so instead of having a ball winning midfielder, the role has been changed to a deep lying playmaker on ‘defend’ and has been pushed into a flat 3 in the centre.

The left wing role has been changed to an inverted winger which is tailored for Adam Hlozek however, when Lucas Da Cunha plays the role is changed back to winger. It actually works well with the overlap when the inverted winger role is used as they’ll draw the full back inside before playing it the wing back who is freed up to cross the ball.

For context, the tactic came into play from the first league game in January.

To the results now, where we had an FA Cup third round match and six league matches as we look to rediscover some form.

I got drawn against Manchester United in the FA Cup third round would you believe? And they done what they usually do to me which was beat me – the score line was 3-1. Lucas Da Cunha got our goal but I just don’t know what else to do to get a result against them, they’re unbelievable!

As our form has slumped in the last 4-5 games, this the point where wing play was reborn. It got us off to a flyer too with a 2-1 win against Everton. After going 1-0 down before half time, the boys regrouped and performed well in the second half with Mateusz Musialowski & Jorge grabbing the goals. Next up was Wolves, a tough team in their own right and it proved that way too with the game finishing 0-0. Playing against 5 at the back was always going to be tough and their defence stood strong in this one.

We then faced Bournemouth who are battling at the other end of the table. I told the boys this is a game we should be winning and they done exactly that, bringing home a fantastic 3-0 victory. Pure dominance here, aided by the goals of Shane McNeill, Lewis Bate (pen) & Kaique Rocha. Now, in the next match versus Leeds, I did revert back to the 4-4-1-1 counter tactic. The reason being is Leeds get the ball up the field quick with their team pushing high and we may struggle to combat that with the 4-3-3. The changed tactic worked in our favour making the most of their high line on the counter, bringing a 3-1 victory. Shane McNeill was scoring again and Tarrelle Whittaker got an overdue brace in which he has a season with direct competition in with Jorge – who is very much impressing so far.

The penultimate game of the month was against Brighton, who occupied a relegation place. These are the types of games I want to win but a performance where we weren’t clinical enough let us down, leading to a 1-1 draw. Tarrelle Whittaker gave us a first half lead but our inability to extend that lead allowed Brighton a way back in. The month finished positively as we faced Watford and grabbed a comfortable 1-0 win. Despite the score line, we did dominate possession with our opposition having minimal chances. Our goal came from winger Mateusz Musialowski who has been very good so far in his first season at the club.

A busy month but unbeaten month in the league racking up 14 points, which is a great improvement on December.

In other news, the youth facilities upgrade was completed, aligning this with the training facilities at a rating of 3.5 stars.

Lastly in January, trusted coach Neil Critchley (ex Liverpool U23s & Blackpool Manager) updated me on young prospect Ryan Montgomery’s ability progress while out of loan in League One, some jump in league standard ability if you ask me!

Excuse the difference in the regen faces, my NewGan Manager messed up…again and I had to re-generate all regen players faces (enough said about that!). For me personally, I’d say Montgomery is League One standard, his technical skills need a bit of work in terms of passing and marking but his mental and physical stats are very good. Make your own judgements and let me know what you think!

February 2027

There will be quite bit of news to come after the results, in what proved to be a short month fixture wise due to our early departure in the FA Cup.

Nonetheless, we carried on our good form against Middlesbrough, holding out for a 1-0 win following the in form Mateusz Musialowski’s early strike. To our oppositions credit they put up a good fight but my defence completed the shut out compliantly. Next up was a painful game against Southampton that ended in a 2-2 draw. Through Jorge & Adam Hlozek we find ourselves 2-0 up with 20 minutes to go then it all went wrong…

Southampton pulled a goal back in the 76th minute and then Jorge’s swan dive won us a penalty. Usually the man of the moment Lewis Bate, but ‘el capitan’ decided to put the ball high into the crowd. This put a rocket right up Southampton as they began to dominate and in the 94th minute they equalise…absolutely brutal stuff even for a draw!

February’s last game was against Manchester United, you know how this usually goes and this was no different as we get pummelled 3-0. Safe to say 4-3-3 wing play has no affect on Man Utd. It’s mad really, I support them IRL but despise them on this save! Oh, and they ruined a good thing for us again.

A mixed month results wise with a couple of tough results, the form is still decent however, so we need to keep it up going into the last few months.

There was some good news in February as wantaway first team goalkeeper Daryl Kandola has decided to stay after no-one bid the agreed price of £74m. In turn, the England international has signed a new 5 year deal with us also which I’m delighted about! He has been unreal ever since he joined us a few years ago.

On the flip side, Scandinavian titan in defence Victor Nelsson has had enough of me after I broke a rare promise…

Hear me out ladies and gents, the promise was to strengthen the midfield, which in the summer window I thought I would need to do this in January but I’m happy with the squad so I didn’t invest. On the plus side, Alex Robertson had returned from his loan to come into the first team. Technically that is strengthening as he is better than he was last year…not buying it either? Fair enough but maybe Victor will have a change of heart soon, I hope.

To end the month, I got my biggest job interview offer of the save so far in what would be a mammoth job!

Arsenal have already gone through two managers this season, including the sacking of club legend Patrick Vieira after finding themselves 15th at this stage! It would be awesome to try and take them back to the top, believe me I was tempted but Bolton are the only club for me.

League Table

Bolton are currently in a Europa League place still with a 5 point cushion to seventh but we are very close to the top 4 also. Liverpool won the Carabao Cup so they are guaranteed the Europa Conference place currently but if they finish higher than seventh then that place will go to seventh as it stands. Our tactical change has worked wonders to allow us to maintain such a position.

What’s Next?

Next up is the run in to the end of the season and let me tell you, it is not a easy ride to the end of the season. Some very tough games in there and we can’t afford to drop too many points at this stage if I want to accomplish our European goal.

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/

As always, thank you for reading and I hope this episode was enjoyable for you all. Take care and the season finale will be here soon!

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