Rumours, fun and games,

by Liam Hatton

SO, as we encountered a few days without football at the Euros with the next round of games kicking off this weekend, Bolton fans did what they did best on Thursday via social media, and that was to crank up the rumour mill and run rampant.

I am guilty of it - I stoked the fire as I got excited over rumours of Paris Maghoma nearing a return. Other accounts did the same, with some notorious for being ‘in the know’ whilst others, including myself, just piggybacking off the back of said gossip coming to the forefront.

This was refuted by The Bolton News on Thursday evening, but several accounts have still claimed that a deal could or would happen. I guess this is the issue with social media and ultimately what to believe? As Fox Mulder once said on the X Files - ‘the truth is out there’.

But that is a decision that can be made by each fan, whether it is blind faith purely because they want a Maghoma return , or maybe they are resigned to the fact that any potential return is unlikely.

Paris Maghoma won't be coming back to Bolton next seasonParis Maghoma won't be coming back to Bolton next season (Image: Camerasport)

Ian Evatt himself effectively conceded defeat that a return would be on the cards after failure to gain promotion via the Playoffs. It made sense, because Maghoma is a talent too rich for League One, both in terms of talent and monetary value.

Yet with a club like Bolton Wanderers who are a big draw at this level, it would not totally be a surprise to seal a statement signing such as this. Just going off the track record of Evatt’s deals in the past, stranger things have happened indeed.

The gap for that replacement is a priority however, which is an interesting discussion following the signing of Klaidi Lolos last week from Crawley Town. Lolos is an interesting player with a lot of talent, who primarily played as a striker for Crawley but has versatility in his locker.

This is something Evatt has commented on, describing him as ‘extremely technical’ and with the ability to play multiple positions. Whilst not necessarily a like for like replacement for Maghoma, Lolos gives Evatt the opportunity to tweak his gameplan this year. This has been a prevalant message relayed by the gaffer over the summer.

You cannot necessarily replace a player like Maghoma, just as you could not do that with a Conor Bradley for example. But there is more than one way to skin a cat for lack of a better phrase, so even if the dream of signing Paris Maghoma is looking slim to none, there is the belief that other talent is available, even if that means changing things up tactically.

If I am in this same position next week writing about a Paris return, I will happily eat my words. This would not be the first time Bolton fans got excited over a non story however, and you can bet your mortgage that it will not be the last time either.

It is all part of the fun and games I guess.

Paris Maghoma has been the word on everyone's lips this weekParis Maghoma has been the word on everyone's lips this week (Image: Camerasport)


by Rebecca Ashworth

I’ll preface this by saying, I know I’m a hypocrite. I’m up late retconning this article, fully aware of the irony behind my words.

Here I was, just last week, writing about how unbelievable transfer rumours were. Over the last couple of days, ‘Eiffel’ for probably the most ludicrous rumour of all (pun wholly intended).

After Wembley, I’d resigned myself to the fact that we wouldn’t see Maghoma in a Bolton shirt again. His heartfelt farewell and Evatt’s remarks that any deal would be “difficult” seemed to draw a line under any chance of a new deal or a second loan. Maghoma was destined for the Championship, and I reluctantly came to accept that the next time I’d hear Paris mentioned would be unrelated to football: at the Opening Ceremony for the city’s Olympic Games.

Well, for a moment, it seemed like like the Paris Olympics have begun early, and Bolton Wanderers were going for gold. Either that, or we were all reading far too much into a one-word post: “Irreplaceable.” Now, it seems more like the latter –– a reminder of an all-too-familiar mantra: it’s the hope that kills you. Indeed, it is.

The obvious question remains then, is he irreplaceable? Maghoma certainly made an impact last season, gaining a reputation across the league as Bolton’s most creative threat. He was, to be quite honest, a class above League One (just another factor that made his return all too unlikely) and it seems no coincidence that he was the first player wiped out by Oxford at Wembley. More than anything, a move for Maghoma would have made clear the ambition of the Board. A Maghoma move would cost a pretty penny, but would send a simple message: we are, once again, all in on promotion.

Still, everyone in football is, in theory, replaceable. Such is the way of the game: footballers come and go. Certainly, it seems like the search for a replacement had begun –– Joel Randall had been linked prior, a seemingly apt fit for Maghoma’s shirt. However, the speed at which Maghoma’s message cloaked Randall’s name reveals that maybe, in the hearts of the fans, Maghoma is, for the meanwhile, irreplaceable after all.

My ears ring with echoes of the age-old adage: never fall in love with a loan player. Maghoma made that a tricky mantra to follow. He had something “irreplaceable” about him. With skills as smooth as any chat-up line (who could forget his Charlton goal?), Maghoma set out to seduce Wanderers fans across the globe. I, for one, am under his spell. I admit it, I’ve fallen for a loan player. But who can blame me? Paris is, after all, the city of romance.

Former Wanderer Dapo Afolayan couldn't find his spotFormer Wanderer Dapo Afolayan couldn't find his spot (Image: Camerasport)

Is 4-3-3 the key?

by Harry Crosland

In October 2022, the Wanderers were looking down the barrel of a fourth defeat in as many seasons at the Wham Stadium - home of Accrington Stanley Football Club. The atmosphere in the infamous, open-air away terrace was understandably sombre.

With his side lacklustre and 2-0 down, Ian Evatt sprung a change. Dapo Afolayan, deployed largely unsuccessfully as a left wing back up to this point, shifted to his natural position of left wing as the Whites moved to a 4-3-3. This allowed him to pick up the ball in more dangerous areas and combine fluidly with his supporting full back, Jack Iredale. While previously defending resolutely, Stanley were unsettled by the change in formation and failed to cope with the Bolton onslaught. The Wanderers ran out 3-2 winners, with Afolayan scoring the decisive goal.

This comeback exemplified the tactical flexibility that so often bore fruit for the club during this period – and that was sorely lacking last season. While chiefly operating with wingbacks in a 5-2-1-2 or 5-3-2, changing to a 4-at-the-back system mid-game was an effective ‘plan B’ tactic for the Whites during the 22/23 campaign. Afolayan, Kieran Sadlier and Elias Kachunga were tasked with providing width to give packed defences something new to worry about, disrupting the structure of the rigid low blocks that frequently faced the Wanderers’ possession-based attack.

While steadfast in his overarching philosophy, altering the tactical set up had been a distinguishing feature of Evatt’s approach for the majority of his tenure. Changing the usual starting formation allowed us to turn the tide of disastrous runs of form in both League One and Two. Either during the season or in specific moments in games, switching the system has been invaluable in rescuing Bolton from tricky situations – so why didn’t we utilise this last season?

The departure of Afolayan and Sadlier during the previous campaign, as well as the unfortunate injuries to Carlos Mendes Gomes – our only remaining out-and-out winger, may have hampered any inclinations Evatt had to utilise a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Instead, when the gameplan was faltering, the manager often altered his front two, with the physicality of Jerome and Böðvarsson occasionally being utilised to go more direct. Aside from the odd exception, this was mostly ineffective in getting the Wanderers back into games. Too often, Bolton failed to change the narrative when faced with an awkward opponent – hamstrung by the inability, or reluctance, to unleash wingers.

At no point during the 23/24 campaign was our tactical rigidity more damaging than the playoff final, when Des Buckingham’s Yellows successfully stifled Bolton with a meticulous gameplan. How different could the day have been if the Wanderers had radically switched formation? At the very least, it would have caused confusion in the Oxford ranks, altering the pattern of the game.

Much of the pre-season talk coming out of the Wanderers camp has surrounded tactical flexibility, including the capacity to move between different formations. In an ever-improving league, poised to present numerous challenges, recapturing the ability to alter the shape may be essential if we are to achieve the elusive goal of promotion back to the Championship.

The Sky TV cameras will make a difference this season... But not that much! (Image: Camerasport)

The more things change,

by Steven Battersby

For the benefit of those who tend to never let the facts get in the way of a discussion, last season Bolton were televised on Wanderers TV or Sky on precisely 20 occasions.

This coming season we are already scheduled for 19 games to be shown on Sky, which will clearly contribute significantly to the minimum of 20 televised fixtures being committed to for each League One team by the Broadcaster.

These are as follows:

Opening Day - Leyton Orient (A).

Closing Day - Stevenage (H).

Midweek Fixtures (H) - Mansfield, Northampton, Birmingham

Midweek Fixtures (A) - Northampton, Birmingham, Wigan

International Break Fixtures to be rearranged (H) - Rotherham

International Break Fixtures to be rearranged (A) - Cambridge, Stevenage, Rotherham

Christmas Fixtures - Barnsley & Lincoln (H) and Mansfield (A)

Easter Fixtures - Wycombe (H) and Lincoln (A)

Add to the above the now scheduled Sky games for August and September - Wrexham (H) and Crawley (A) and this already adds up to 19 fixtures destined for live television.

This leaves us with 14 home Saturday fixtures and 13 away ones. It is probable that at least two or three of those will be moved, very possibly to a different kick off time on the Saturday (possibly Wrexham away and Wigan at home).

It remains to be seen what effect this has on attendances, particularly regarding those travelling long distances to home games and also for any early kick off times for away games, such as this 12.30 pm kick off for the Crawley game.

I suppose my point is we already live in an era where almost fifty percent of games can be seen legally via one broadcaster or another but we are on a trip into uncharted territory but as far as I am concerned nothing will ever beat being at the match, providing you are able to.

Sharon Brittan's interview boosted morale among the supportersSharon Brittan's interview boosted morale among the supporters (Image: Camerasport)

Let's start afresh,

by Chris McKeown

Time is a great healer, or so we get told, and the wounds from Wembley certainly took some healing. (Some may say the recovery isn’t yet complete!).

It seemed that time dragged from the play off final to the breaking of the silence from the club by Sharon Brittan’s well received and much needed interview to boost the supporters morale .
I personally think it’s time to turn the page and begin afresh.

The start of the previous season seemed to be with every fan on board - slightly disappointed with the play off semi-final loss, but buoyed by the fact we had, overall, a very good campaign , topped off with the  amazing Papa John Trophy victory.  It did seem like a pivotal moment of the club’s ‘rebirth’ and cemented a solid relationship between supporters, management and the board.

Fast forward to now - We were one small step away from achieving Championship football, having the hopes and dreams of the fans being fulfilled - so close and yet so very far. To regroup from that is a project itself. I have to be honest and say I was unsure if Ian Evatt was the right man to ‘begin again’ with but clarification was given by FV and he remains in position… not to support that decision now seems folly and counter-productive.

However, for me, this season is the season it must come together, not with bold statements but with a quiet resilience and backed up and quantified with squad depth and extra quality to add competition, not just making up the numbers.

So now Ian has his budget and for me the first three acquisitions are positive ones , and the added bonus of having George Johnston back is fantastic news. Yes, we do need more recruits , but we are on the right track.

That with the added new assistant manager and it feels like all the tools are being put in place for Ian to have a real go at promotion, perhaps for the last time?

Being a Bolton fan we are certainly battle hardened, yes we get hurt, but we always turn up, the numbers don’t lie .. will that loyalty be tested this season?  I hope not , but a strong start I believe is imperative to both a successful season and perhaps most importantly, to keep ‘all’ of us together.

This time last year I had confidence of a top two finish … this time not quite that same optimism but I do believe we will be challenging.

So it’s important to have a strong fit squad and certainly that little thing called luck would be nice, to help us get over the line.
For me,  it’s a new season ticket seat for 24/25 - if we achieve promotion, I think it’ll be the lucky new seats that make the difference!

I can’t wait for August , the pre match chat , watching the games with friends and of course the post-match social media match dissection … I’m ready again!

Could Kyle Dempsey fill a box-to-box role for Bolton in midfield?Could Kyle Dempsey fill a box-to-box role for Bolton in midfield? (Image: Camerasport)

Paris and the importance of tactical flexibility,

By Lee Sidebottom

I'm Bolton home and away.

With this column I hope to bring discussion and find common ground with fellow passionate fans about the club we love. Like many, Bolton is my life.

With pre-season friendlies coming up I can't wait to be back in the stands. Reflecting on last season I’ve had so many conversations with supporters about what could have been. “If he hadn’t been injured, we’d have gone up” or “if we had just won this game, we’d have had enough points” I have heard countless times and admittedly I have been guilty of stating this myself. But that won’t change the outcome of Wembley last season.

That made me think. Paris Maghoma leaving is bound to lead to more “what if we had” debates just like Connor Bradley and James Trafford did the season before that. There’s no doubt he’s going to be a big miss and a player we need to begin to adapt playing without. It seemed like he could do it all. The timing to make important challenges. The feet to drive the ball forward 15-20 yards from the defence to attack. The passing to play through balls into the forward runners. And the finish with many spectacular goals throughout the campaign. Kyle Dempsey or George Thomason could fill that box-to-box role. But with so many injuries that haunted us last season, we can’t keep relying on that one player to bail us out every game like Paris and Dion did last season. There’s a bigger picture here.

Ian Evatt has spoken these past few weeks a lot about tactical flexibility and adaptation. I think everyone can agree we need a tactical restructure. Perhaps Paris leaving can be the spark for that. Different game plans for when things aren't going our way and to not keep relying on the same players and using the same system in attempt to grind out results. Too many teams figured us out last season.

At times it seemed as though we had run out of ideas before even the end of the first half. Let’s not be afraid to make early changes or be scared to play direct football. And most importantly, let’s play with some more freedom and creativity. Look at the impact Aaron Collins made just a few games in. Bringing his way of doing things made our approach look fresh, and more importantly contributed to winning results.

To summarise, we will only go up this year by building on the mistakes of last, and the biggest was not having a Plan B in place. It must be our focus this year. Let’s not look back again next year thinking “if only we had done this” or blame failure on fixture fatigue or injury luck.

Or we could just get in another wonderkid from the Premier League and throw all that out the window. After all, there's nothing we love more than falling in love with another loan player.