After our cup action last weekend against Bournemouth kicking off the season we now turn to the bread-and-butter stuff and travel to newly promoted Bolton for our opening game in the League 1 campaign. Doing the honours for us this week is Bolton fan Lee Tenant aged 37. Many thanks to Lee and good luck to Bolton for the season ahead.
Looking back to last season after a summer of reflection, what is your assessment of how you got on last season?
It was a rollercoaster of a ride that’s for sure!!
At the end of the day, we got the job done and the positivity garnered from such a superb second half of the season means we probably go into League One with more bounce and momentum than if we’d just stayed steadily in the top 3 or all season and finished third.
The January recruitment and the fact Ian Evatt was allowed to bring in his own players, after the departure of failed experiment Tobias Phoenix as Sporting Director, was the biggest sole contributory factor in our transformation from relegation candidates to automatic promotion gate crashers. The owners admitted the error of their ways in time for Evatt to bring in a much higher calibre of player than we’d manage to acquire in the mad summer dash to formulate a side and the likes of Declan John and Dapo Afolayan obviously saw enough in Evatt and the club to commit their futures to the club with three year-deals.
This kind of long-term deal has been unheard of since the early days back in the Championship after our final-day relegation from the Premier League in 2012 and illustrates that the club has finally turned a corner in terms of stability, on and off the pitch.
We look forward to the new season with optimism, a club united once again and a real sense of pride that as a club we are most certainly back.
Looking forward to this season, what are your expectations and hopes for this season?
There are a lot of big hitters with varying degrees of apparent strength heading into the last three weeks of pre-season.
Ipswich have made some impressive moves in recent weeks; Sheffield Wednesday may have lost a lot of star names and are in a mess financially, but the size of the club will still be a big pull for players and for perennial underachievers Sunderland too. The Wearsider’s seem to have got their act together off the pitch with a young and wadded new owner, a new director of football and a young, hungry and progressive manager in Lee Johnson.
There are the other relegated sides in Wycombe and Rotherham with excellent managers at the helm and the often-underappreciated stability of both clubs. The others who missed out in the play-offs such as Lincoln City and Oxford United could feasibly go one better, the Cowley’s will no doubt improve a hit-and-miss Pompey side and Nigel Adkins has been backed at Charlton by the new owner.
Then there’s the three clubs who ended last campaign in red hot form to escape the drop in AFC Wimbledon, Burton Albion and Wigan, who seem to have overcome their financial issues, illustrated by the signing of the divisions’ second top marksman last season Charlie Wyke on reportedly eye watering wages for this level.
Throw in mid-table clubs from the 2020/21 season like Plymouth and MK Dons who you can see improving under exciting young managers and add in the likes of Doncaster, Accrington and Gillingham who are all tough nuts to crack, and the outcome is a hell of a competitive league!
For us to compete at the top end of this stacked division will require a monumental effort in my opinion and as things stand, I feel we are a few signings of genuine quality short of doing this.
We do have momentum, though and stability at long last. I expect these factors and the smattering of quality throughout the squad to mean it ends up being a mid-table finish, with perhaps the odd moment in the season where the play-offs look achievable and times when we’re nervously checking over our shoulder towards the relegation threatened pack.
A season of adjusting to the level above may not be what Wanderers fans will be yearning for or expecting but it will not be the worst thing that’s happened to our club by a long stretch.
Can you tell us a little known fact or Historical event people may not of heard of?
We played at and won the first ever final staged at the old Wembley in 1923, beating West Ham United 2-0 in what was dubbed the ‘White Horse Final’, after a horse named Billy helped clear the pitch after supporters spilled onto the pitch due to an oversubscribed crowd.
There are rumours that as many as 200,000 attended that day!
Are they any players “breaking through” from your system who could be the next big players for your club?
The only youth player who played many minutes last season was central midfielder George Thomason. He broke through into the side in December and did enough to keep his place for some pivotal encounters in the latter stages of the season and was rewarded with a new deal in January.
Very left footed, with a cracking range of passing and a very old head on young shoulders, we have high hopes for the former Blackpool trainee who was picked up in the summer of 2019 on the advice of 9th tier Longridge Town manager Lee Ashcroft, who recommended him to our then manager Keith Hill. The arrival of Josh Sheehan into a packed engine room may mean a slight step back in his workload this season but most fans would like to see him play a big part in the upcoming season.
The likes of attacking midfielder Ronan Darcy (20), utility man Harry Brockbank (22) and central defender Adam Senior (19) all played in spells too and Darcy looks to have bulked up over the summer, scoring in both our first two friendlies in injury time and seeing plenty of minutes after Sarcevic sustained a minor injury, so it is possible he and Brockbank at right-back potentially do see more playing time this season.
The fans have a particular affinity with Senior and Brockbank, being Bolton fans themselves and chiefly for being part of the ‘Bolton babes’ side that took to the field when the first teamers we had left at the start of our ill-fated League One campaign in 2019/20 went on strike over unpaid wages. They ground out a morale boosting and forever-to-be-remembered 0-0 draw at home to eventual PPG champions Coventry City.
They’ve both been with the club since the ages of seven or eight too and we would genuinely love to see them play a big part in our future.
How has your season ticket sales gone with potential issues with restrictions?
We’ve almost reached 10,000 which is excellent, with around 8,000 being renewals from last season. With the capacity at around 27,500 I don’t foresee any issues getting everyone in who’s bought a season ticket and as things stand anyone wanting to buy a ticket on the day should be fine to attend as well.
We have capped all our season tickets at £230 in all areas in case of local lockdowns to cover the £10 a game on iFollow, has your club come up with any Initiatives?
Nothing that I’ve seen beyond the usual discounts for students, children and OAPs, although for people renewing there was a 10% discount on last year’s prices.
Which MK Dons player stands out to you and why?
From highlights I’d seen I really liked the look of Scott Fraser who you’ve sadly lost to Ipswich, but you still have the hugely impressive David Kasumu in your engine room who I think has a very high ceiling and his high energy, all action style suits the way Russell Martin has you playing. I hope you manage to keep hold of him for your assault on promotion to the Championship, before the big guns inevitably come calling.
What style of play can we expect to see from your team?
Ian Evatt has certainly tried to implement the ‘Barrowcelona’ brand of football that gave him so much success in his first full-time role in management, with the Cumbrian outfit securing the National League title on PPG at the end of the shortened 2019/20 season and slowly but surely, he’s turned us into a side who can win games playing this way.
The pairing of Ricardo Santos and Alex Baptiste were the foundations on which the team’s upturn in form was built and their adeptness at bringing the ball out from the back certainly gave us the impetus to control games in the fashion Evatt wanted.
We look to get our full-backs Gethin Jones and Declan John into dangerous areas, over and under lapping our wide men Lloyd Isgrove and Dapo Afolayan, targeting our striker Eoin Doyle and number ten Antoni Sarcevic with cutbacks and low driven crosses mainly.
It worked to an extent, but we had to see out several games by a 1-0 score line. Up against League Two calibre strikers it wasn’t a big problem but stepping up a level we will need to find ways to increase our chances on goal and our output once we get into those positions if we are to replicate the success we enjoyed last season, beyond mid-January anyway, when we languished in 20th position in the league.
Have you ever been to Stadium MK, if so, what’s your opinion on it?
Unfortunately, not, I’ve been to Milton Keynes with work and seen the famous concrete cows but never had the pleasure of visiting the ground.
Who are your tips for the league title, promotion, and relegation?
Predicting the outcome of this division is tantamount to sadomasochism but I do have some strong fancies. Ipswich’s early business and the qualities that Paul Cook can imbue into a side could make them a formidable outfit and I think they must be my favourites to lift the league title.
Paul Warne has been there and done it in this division twice before with the Millers and I think they’ll have enough about them if they make a couple more additions to get that 2nd spot. MK Dons have now had a full season to adjust to the methods of Russell Martin now and this factor could be pivotal in their chances of making a return to the Championship, I fancy them to win the play-offs.
The relegation picks are just as tricky. There were a number of sides who I didn’t fancy last season in this league, but I can’t honestly say that there is more than a couple of sides who stick out as having a smaller chance of survival than the rest.
It will be hard for Mark Bonner to replicate his Cambridge miracle without the services of 30+ goal star striker Paul Mullin and the loss of full-back Kyle Knoyle too will be keenly felt. It would be foolhardy to write off the rookie manager entirely though and loan signing of Jenson Weir and snapping up James Brophy from Leyton Orient should give them hope and the U’s will certainly make life difficult for sides coming to the Abbey Stadium. It is a big step up in quality though and it could be a struggle for Bonner to bring in the requisite standard of player to bridge the gap.
Derek Adams’ departure left a big hole for Morecambe to fill but wily Northern Irishman Stephen Robinson has come in and made some astute loan signings in Alfie McCalmont and Josh McPake, so despite the losses of star man Carlos Mendes Gomes and Yann Songo’o it is not a foregone conclusion that the Shrimps will find it a step too far on their remarkable journey. Yet it is hard to imagine that they will have enough about them to survive, as things stand.
I think Cheltenham will have enough about them under Michael Duff’s understated and astute stewardship to avoid an immediate return to the bottom division. I do worry for Fleetwood after an underwhelming close season thus far and they are my third pick to drop down to League Two.
My final pick is a bit of a surprise choice in what’s been a real tough task but in the end, I’ve gone with a side in Doncaster Rovers who actually looked like they may have been a good bet for promotion at one stage last season but underwent a spectacular slump after highly rated manager Darren Moore was poached by Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday. Donny suffered a terrible end to the season under the reigns of rookie interim manager and club legend Andy Butler and their summer transfer dealings under new manager Richie Wellens have been underwhelming in my eyes. It is often very difficult to arrest a slide in momentum and form and for this reason I can see Doncaster struggling to stay afloat in the division this time around.
Can you give us your match prediction?
I worry that we will struggle to match up against your impressive side in a game that will showcase two sides wanting the ball to create chances and I’m going for a slightly pessimistic 2-1 defeat for us at the UniBol.