Welcome one and all to the final episode of Bolton Back to Europa as I call it a day on what has been a crazy 8 seasons of bringing this club back to where they belong. I have to say that I haven’t enjoyed a save as much as this one in a very long time, there’s a sense of satisfaction of taking a team back up the leagues under financial hell and then elevating them to the heights we are at now when the takeover hit.
In season 8 episode 3, we ended with the team still fighting on three fronts – top 6 in the Premier League, the Europa League and the FA Cup. Being our last season, all three will be focused on as I look to go out with a bang and bring one last trophy to the club.
In this big series finale, it is very competition focused but as always little bits will pop up here and there news wise. Bringing us to the end of the season as well, there will be time for reflection and then the dreaded part, walking into the Chairman’s office to hand in that resignation…
March 2028 Youth Intake
A time of the season every FM player is excited about but for me with our poor youth recruitment, it hasn’t been too pretty the last couple of seasons.
What a load of rubbish! I know I won’t be here to see any of them progress but that is not a good intake. Like I said in the last episode, I never asked the board to improve the youth recruitment so partly it’s on me but we live and learn.
Before we have a look at the results, the board shut down any takeover talk once and for all.
Now time for the results, with 3 league games and the FA Cup Quarter Final round to be had.
Off we travelled to the south coast to face Brighton, a team who my side do find it difficult to play against. However, it was Bolton who took early control going 2-0 up 30 minutes in with Jorge & Adam Hlozek grabbing the goals. Brighton did get a goal shortly after but we saw out the game for the 2-1 win. Leeds were then welcomed to our neck of the woods, with another win coming with a 2-1 score line. Again, we took a 2-0 lead over the course of the game with a Junior double with Leeds scoring late on.
The last league game of the month was against Southampton, which are usually exciting matches but this one was rather tame, finishing 0-0. Nothing much to report on this one, other than pure boredom.
But the excitement picked back up in the FA Cup Quarter Final against Everton. A lively first half as we took the lead through Adam Hlozek but Everton were back level 5 minutes later. A lot of half chances for both teams throughout the rest of the match, followed by a non-eventful period of extra time. Penalties it was as I swing back and forth in my seat, my side bag their first 4 penalties as Everton miss their 4th penalty! Nestor Bravo scores and we win but he misses the target…we didn’t want sudden death as the remaining Everton players steps up…KANDOLA SAVES LOW TO THE RIGHT! Scenes as our star goalkeeper is rushed by the team, through we go 4-3 on penalties (1-1 after ET).
A very good month as the positive momentum keeps us picking up points in the league and the madness in the FA Cup books us a semi final place, where we will face Wolves.
A busy April as we have 6 league games to contend with and also a trip to Wembley for the FA Cup Semi Final, let’s get amongst it!
A big first game in April, facing Arsenal who ruined us 4-0 back in November. Revenge was sweet as we get some payback in a 3-1 win. An Adam Hlozek brace and a further goal from Nestor Bravo had us running away with it as Arsenal scored a late consolation. Unfortunately the price was Omar Richards falling to injury – the recurring story of this season.
A visit from Leicester was next as we shared the points in 1-1 draw. In all honesty, Leicester were the better team and took an early lead but against the run of play we punished them on the counter with Nestor Bravo getting another goal to his name. The big FA Cup Semi-Final against Wolves was up next on the neutral stage of Wembley Stadium. This suited us down to the ground as we dominated with a 3-0 victory! A double from top scorer Jorge which was followed by a late 25 yarder from Ronaldo Vieira booked our place in the final and what a team we would be facing…
The team we have only beaten once – Manchester United await us! Back to the league action and we really let ourselves down against Liverpool which ended in a 3-0 loss. The team were poor throughout and did not threaten the opposition, I think we got what we deserved here. Relegation battlers Fulham were next in a game we should be winning but we dropped more points drawing 1-1. A quick start through a rare Tommy Doyle penalty looked promising but my side didn’t take much control of the game and got punished by a battling side.
Before we proceed, there was an injury I was absolute gutted about as save legend Tarrelle Whittaker picks up a training injury which will end his season, meaning I will not get to use him again. The man once known as ‘the bagsman’ fired us into the Premier League and even with his role change to the wing in the last couple of seasons, he still brought the goods. 105 goals in all competitions in 5 seasons, what a servant – thank you big man!
Into the last two games of the month and it started with Norwich, a team who were more or less safe from relegation but they kept us on our toes as we took a narrow 2-1 win. Another fast start from my team as a Jorge double got us leading 2-0 within 18 minutes but Norwich hit back shortly after and they did test us a few times in the rest of the match, but we held on. A rehearsal for the FA Cup final was next as we took on Manchester United, it wasn’t the score line we wanted to see losing 2-0. I hope we don’t perform like this at Wembley or we will be in a lot of trouble, as we couldn’t contain Haaland and Rashford.
An up and down month as it got pretty tough but we still battle on in the league and FA Cup.
Two games to go in the season and this is how we were sitting within the league at this stage.
We have to perform to fend off Everton who are only slightly behind us, it was unlikely that we’ll catch up for an ambitious top 4 place.
It was under the Monday night lights against Bournemouth and we got a much needed win at 1-0. An unlikely source as Omar Richards scored his first goal for the club, where it was a game that my side stayed in control but nothing more came out of it. Going into our last game versus Sheffield United, we had nothing to play for after Everton slipped up and 5th was too far away so I made 11 changes including some youngsters and reserves. It was a 3-2 loss but I didn’t mind as it was more of a run out for most players, Ronaldo Vieira & Jake Clarke-Salter got our goals in this one.
Well our last Premier League month got Bolton into the top 6 again meaning it was Europa League football once more which was the aim.
Final League Table
6th place confirmed with the Europa League spot. Everton ended up getting a place too, not quite sure why but everyone wins in a sense! We finished with 5 more points than last season too which shows slight improvement in league performance.
FA Cup Final
It would be amazing to end our tenure with a trophy but this was the same game that we couldn’t get the job done two seasons ago. It was against the same opponents in Manchester United who we have only beaten once in about 12 attempts so we were more than up against it….or were we?
WE’VE BLOODY DONE IT! FA CUP MAGIC AT WEMBLEY AS WE UPSET THE ODDS AND GRAB A 1-0 WIN AGAINST MANCHESTER UNITED!!!
Adam Hlozek the goal hero in the game but Felipe Jonatan was outstanding from left back in his man of the match performance. In terms of chance creation we were better as the 4-2-3-1 counter tactic prevailed.
The 3 behind Jorge were different gravy going forward but a special shout out to centre back Rafa Marin who man marked Haaland and reduced him to a 6.3 rating. Marin had him pocketed again for the second time this season!
Hailed as the biggest overachievers which is a credit to the team, we fought our way to that final and to topple the outright favourites is stuff of dreams, get in there!
Europa League Knockout Stages
To this point, I have given no indication of our progress so far, again we needed to battle our way through some tough fixtures. We had the draw in the second round of our fellow group stage opponents – Bayer Leverkusen.
It was a close one but we came through with a 3-2 win on aggregate. It could have been a very different story as in the first leg at home we were trailing 2-0 until a 3 minute double from Tarrelle Whittaker & Gerard Berghmans gave us some sort of chance in Germany. After some heroics in goal from Daryl Kandola, we grew into the second leg and Nestor Bravo got the goal to send us to the quarter finals…thankfully!
The quarter final presented us with Valencia who aren’t the team they once were but then again English sides don’t have the greatest records against Spanish sides in European competition.
My side make there way through after doing all the hard work in Spain. Jorge’s brace got us two away goals without reply and the second leg was about containing the opposition which we done with a good professional performance.
Athletic Bilbao stand in our way of the Europa League final and they cannot be taken lightly as we’re all aware of their capabilities in this competition. We were at home for the first leg.
A decent 2-0 win but part of me was thinking that it wasn’t enough. We had the chances for more all I could hope was that Adam Hlozek & Marko Stamenic’s goals were enough of a cushion at this point. As usual, the win came at a price as Nestor Bravo’s season was ended.
A big loss as he has been impressive since he signed in January but the show must go on!
Wow, that was close. It was similar to the second leg of the Valencia tie and I thought we were comfortable to see it out but an 85th minute goal from Bilbao, turned up the pressure and they piled it on. I dropped my two centre mids deeper to try and combat it whilst I prayed for the full time whistle and finally it sounded. A 2-1 win on aggregate and we were off to the final!
Lazio got past RB Salzburg and they were our final opponents. Two teams who have never won it but they’ve certainly came a lot closer than Bolton ever had…so it all came down to this one game.
Absolute heartbreak. How. Did. We. Not. Win. This? The better side easily but we just couldn’t score. My team had an xG of 1.94 to Lazio’s 0.45, even though I never expected us to get this far, losing any final is absolutely gutting. If we won, that would have meant Champions League football…that could have changed my stance potentially.
It hurts but when you reflect, my side should have gone out in the first knockout round against Inter but we always seemed to find a way to win against these teams by playing on the counter. Much like the FA Cup, Bolton were viewed as the biggest overachievers thanks to our dream run to the final.
There was a further moment for the squad to be proud of as goalkeeper Daryl Kandola, centre back Giannis Michalidis and striker Jorge all get a place in the Europa League Team of the Season.
End of Season Review
As I edge closer to saying goodbye, there was still time for one last appreciation on everything that we’ve achieved this season.
Our final best XI at Bolton which sees Jorge secure a place on the bench. Some great players from over the seasons on here, I do miss our League 1 & 2 squad from the early days – never forget what you started with everyone!
Lastly, take a look at our finances, this really shows how far we have come on this journey. Literally from rags to riches.
The Time Has Come
Well guys, it is time to hang up the suit and say goodbye to this beautiful club. It’s been one heck of a project and as an FM player, I can honestly say this is one of the best saves I’ve done on this game in years. But as team leaders Lewis Bate, Tarrelle Whittaker and Daryl Kandola stand before me, I tell them “All good things must come to an end”
As I stared at the screen hovering over the resign button, I graciously click…
3 promotions, 4 trophies and 2 runners up medals isn’t bad at all for an 8 season haul. One record I pride myself in is we never finished in a lower position than the season prior in any season. I hope its Graham Potter who takes over, both of us at DP-FM are a massive fan of his and his slick attacking football will suit this squad down the ground.
A staff walkout was triggered by my resignation, even if they won’t be working under me anymore, what servants they all were!
The main take away from all this for me is that I came here as a nobody but I left a Bolton Wanderers icon.
Well guys that’s me for FM21, see you all in November.
Just messing of course! I have a lot coming up starting with my second stint on our network joint save with some awesome content creators – The Far East Express where we continue to conquer Asian football on the road to the AFC Champions League. We have just won our first trophy thanks to SadPanda333 so make sure you check out his last episode here. I will be releasing the first episode of season 6 in a few days.
Other confirmed save plans will be a short term save and a new long term save that will take me through the rest of the FM21 cycle. Basically we don’t stop!
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 10. 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/2021/05/24/unemployed-unskilled-inexperienced-s10-ep-1-a-decade-in/
Thanks for all your reading and support through this series, I really do appreciate it. And when anybody asks about Bolton Wanderers, just remember that DP-FM did indeed get Bolton Back To Europa 🙂