As Bolton Wanderers’ dismal campaign dwindles to its conclusion, fans are beginning to see a glimpse of what the future holds, with several youngsters involved in the first team set-up over the last few weeks.
Thoughts now turn to a fresh start and the beginning of the new season in August, and one of the questions which will be answered eventually is: can Bolton adapt to League One football with potentially a youthful playing squad?
Defender Tyler Garratt was the latest youngster to make the step up – and he impressed when he came off the bench in place of fellow academy graduate, Niall Maher, who received his marching orders during Saturday’s last minute defeat at Cardiff City.
Zach Clough’s seventh minute free-kick was cancelled out by Kenneth Zohore’s effort ten minutes after half-time, only for debutant Garratt to concede an unfortunate stoppage time penalty, which Peter Whittingham converted beyond Ben Amos.
Aside from those who were brought in under the stewardship of Neil Lennon, Rob Holding, Josh Vela, Tom Walker and Zach Clough, interim-manager Jimmy Phillips has thrown several other younger players into the deep end of league football, and whilst Wanderers have nothing to play for after relegation was confirmed, their young players will be aiming to impress in order to stake a claim for regular football.
Oscar Threlkeld, recently recalled from a loan spell at Plymouth Argyle, and Maher have shown supporters what they have to offer in the full-back positions, while Garratt did his case no harm with a positive display on his maiden senior appearance in a Trotters jersey.
Kaiyne Woolery has progressed off the substitutes’ bench, often linking up with Clough in place of veteran Emile Heskey, who he has been mentored by. Clough and Woolery, along with the returning Max Clayton from yet another long-term injury, could form the basis of Bolton’s attacking options, while Jamie Thomas and Alex Samizadeh have also been around the squad, as Phillips continues the work Lennon started.
Keeping Clough remains a priority, and fending off interest from elsewhere will be difficult. The striker wants to stay at the club who gave him his first big break, which is great to see, and hopefully he will be able to showcase his talent.
By giving these players the chance to prove their worth, admittedly not in the best of circumstances, Phillips is offering a set of individuals the chance to compete in competitive football – performances have improved since the inevitable relegation was confirmed, as these academy graduates are now playing without fear. Given that nothing can be lost in these remaining fixtures, instead experience will be gained, which will bode well for their futures as professionals.
Like other sides who have suffered the drop in divisions during recent years, Bolton will have a squad overhaul of their very own – so it could prove to be a worthwhile move as the club attempt to build for the future, both on the pitch, and off it.
Considering the club have been embroiled in a financial plight, meaning, at the moment means they currently have a transfer embargo, the outlook seemingly points to putting faith in the academy graduates at their disposal.
Chairman, Ken Anderson, and Chief Executive, Dean Holdsworth, have decisions to make, not just regarding the vacant managerial position, but also the future of a squad of players who have underperformed throughout the past nine months – events which have had led to the side tumbling out of the Championship.
Seeing these lads come through into the side in matches that are effectively dead-rubbers is all well and good, however, could they step up to the challenge on a consistent basis, in what will be a physical, tough division?
In recent years, the lower leagues have proved a great starting point for a player, as seen with Dele Alli’s meteoric rise at Tottenham Hotspur. It is now a case of these Bolton players taking this opportunity presented with both hands, and show they can play a part in the rebuild at the Macron Stadium.
Time will tell how good the new generation of youngsters will be – it has certainly given food for thought to ponder over in the coming months, though.