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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers News » Declan John can hit heights again after his Swansea exit

Declan John can hit heights again after his Swansea exit

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

After kickstarting his career in League Two with Wanderers, the prospect of Declan John firing on full throttle in League One is an appetising one indeed.

Prior to his debut for Bolton in a 2-0 win against Leyton Orient on January 30, it had been more than 12 months since the Welshman played 90 minutes of competitive football.

He had been frozen out by Swansea, ignored by Sunderland, and had dropped completely off the grid in discussions about the Welsh national team.

That rapid decline left people search for reasons – why was it that a player who at the age of 18 was turning out for Cardiff City at Manchester United in the Premier League and playing in World Cup qualifiers, was now salvaging his reputation in the fourth tier?

There had been no evidence of a fall-out, not even in the tinder box at Sunderland, where the left-back had been loaned in January 2020 and effectively ignored by ex-Bolton boss Phil Parkinson.

Nor were there any great concerns about the player’s fitness when he pitched up at Wanderers, beyond that of a player who had been sitting on the shelf for a year.

There had been some suggestion that John’s salary at Swansea had been a prohibitive factor in him moving elsewhere but Bolton’s offer in January was timed perfectly and the defender knew that if he could get regular football under his former Chesterfield team-mate Ian Evatt, he would almost certainly have more offers this summer.

What certainly started as a marriage of convenience evolved quite quickly into something much more.

John worked his way into the team within a few weeks, Huddersfield Town loanee Ben Jackson proving a capable stop-gap. And within his first month the Merthyr native had scored his first goals since netting for Rangers in a defeat at Kilmarnock in December 2017.

With Wanderers’ form picking up considerably, John became their chief attacking outlet on the left flank, combining well with another loanee who has since chosen to stay, Dapo Afolayan.

In an attacking sense, John’s returns over 21 appearances are outstanding, considering he was a player who had no pre-season to speak of, nor any obvious foundation of match fitness before his arrival.

He ranked in the top 10 percentile for the whole division in progressive runs per 90 minutes (3.10 per game), forward passes per 90 minutes (18.93 per game) and accurate forward passes (just shy of 69 per cent), also featuring highly in other attacking metrics such as expected assists, touches in the penalty box per 90 minutes, and successful dribbles.

Defensively, he won more than 64 per cent of his defensive duels, which compared very favourably to his peers. He was also in the divisional top five left-backs for the number of times he was dribbled past, emphasising his prowess in one-on-one situations.

Other areas – including shots and crosses blocked – produced less impressive results, and underline that while John did make a good impact at Bolton, he still has plenty of scope to improve his game after signing a three-year deal.

That, for Bolton supporters, should be the most important aspect of the club signing John to a three-year deal. He impressed at a time when he was still feeling his way to full fitness, so what can he do with a full pre-season behind him?

Returning for a full pre-season in a team and tactical system he feels comfortable in should also be a big incentive for John as he looks towards the future in his Bolton career.

It is a fair while since John will have felt ‘wanted’ – and though Bolton’s fans were only able to view him from afar last season, their reaction to the club’s announcement of his signing at the end of last week suggests he could be a popular player on the terraces.

The Wanderers faithful have always loved a flying full-back, be it a Phil Brown or a Ricardo Gardner, and the pacy John will hopefully have a similar impact.


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