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Bolton set to clear the decks - but which players are most at risk?

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

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The beer bottles and Champagne corks had barely been cleared from the pitch at Crawley when Ian Evatt first started talking about reshaping his squad for League One.

Vowing not to allow sentimentality to creep in after such a dramatic promotion, he put the whole team on notice that the bar would once again be raised this summer.

Those expecting a big cull when the club announced a retained list in May were probably left wanting. Though regular benchwarmers like Arthur Gnahoua and Shaun Miller were released, at least some eyebrows were raised when Andy Tutte secured a new deal, and likewise when an offer was made to Ryan Delaney, albeit one later rejected.

The real clear-out, it appears, may arrive this summer.

It seems highly likely that Evatt will have to work under some form of restriction on squad size next season, as dictated by the EFL.

The exact parameters remain unclear. The PFA has threatened legal action to remove squad size limits as they successfully achieved with salary capping last year but managers, including Evatt, are expecting to have some degree of limitation on the number of players who can be registered to play in League One.

Original plans put forward last summer at a time when the pandemic had a tight grip on the game proposed a limit of 20 players, not including Under-21s. Many now predict the parameters will be loosened and clubs will be allowed to name 22 or 23, not including goalkeepers or Under-21s. In April, the PFA tabled a solution that all clubs across the EFL should be allowed to name 25. Presumably, in the absence of any confirmation from either party, the argument continues.

All the while, Wanderers are looking to shape their squad to compete at the top end of the table this season, with Evatt seeking three-tier competition for each position.

Along with two senior rivals for each spot in the side, he wants a developmental back-up, which looking at the make-up of his current dressing room, leaves plenty of work left to do.

After the permanent addition of Declan John last week, Bolton currently have 19 first team outfield players aged over 21, a further four aged under-21 who have started a game for the club, plus two goalkeepers in Matt Gilks and Matt Alexander.

Evatt has highlighted four areas he wants to improve, including a senior keeper, potentially two full-backs, a centre-half and at least two attacking players. That means five or more outfield players could yet have to fit into the equation.

The Bolton boss is also well aware that to fit that influx of new faces into his squad, he will need to make room, moving on some players who are currently under contract.

Assessing which players are most vulnerable to being moved on is difficult. Andy Tutte made just one appearance for the Whites from February onward but was rewarded with a new contract by virtue of his performances earlier in the season.

The Liverpudlian proved a consistent performer at a time when Wanderers were still moping around in the bottom reaches of League Two, and prior to a highly successful winter transfer window.

Using a lack of appearances as a yardstick, however, it would be fair to assume fellow defensive midfielder Brandon Comley would be on the list of players most at risk.

Although his stats at Colchester United for the truncated 2019/20 campaign were encouraging, the Monserrat international struggled to convince in League Two, making the last of his 14 appearances as a sub in the 6-3 home defeat to Port Vale at the start of December.

Full-back Liam Gordon was another player who failed to nail down a place, his last appearance coming in the Papa John’s Trophy win against Newcastle United’s Under-21s in mid-November.

The young defender was then loaned back to his previous club Dagenham and Redbridge, where his form reportedly picked up significantly whilst playing on the left side of midfield.

Ali Crawford also found himself shipped out on loan in January to make way for new arrivals, the Scot having only signed a new two-year deal the previous summer.

During the club’s last spell in League One, Crawford had been among Keith Hill’s more productive performers either side of a serious knee injury. His impact in League Two, however, was negligible and a record of just four starts in his time at Prenton Park would suggest the same of his loan move.

Big defender Reiss Greenidge had looked a wildcard signing last summer after being plucked from the relative obscurity of Norwegian football, and after slipping way down the list of starting centre-backs it seems unlikely he will feature this time around.

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