Liam Gordon’s concerted push to stay in Wanderers’ first team contention this summer has not been a surprise to manager Ian Evatt.
The full-back spent the second half of last season on loan at his former club Dagenham and Redbridge in the National League, having struggled to settle in an inconsistent Bolton side early on.
Few gave him a chance of remaining in the manager’s thoughts after promotion to League One but a series of encouraging pre-season displays have started to change fans’ minds.
Now Evatt says the 22-year-old Guyana international will get a chance to push Declan John for the left-back berth, having upped his game in recent months.
“He hasn’t surprised me,” Evatt insisted. “Liam is back in my plans because of Liam. He has gone and earned that right.
“He went out on loan, got his head down, worked really hard and played really well and that is all you can ask of your players.
“Then he came back in pre-season and did well too. So, he has deserved a shot.”
Gordon played 15 times in all competitions last season but had dropped well out of contention for a first team spot by the time he was loaned out last December.
John’s arrival looked to have spelled the end of his chances at Bolton – but Evatt believes the young defender can now keep the Welshman on his toes.
“The whole point of our recruitment has been to get stuff done early and have more or less two players for every position,” he said. “We have Declan and now we have Liam, who looks like he is going to put up a fight for that position – and that is exactly what we need.
“He is a young player but he is learning all the time. He is understanding what is required.
“Yes, he still needs to be fitter, there’s no two ways about that, but the tactical detail and his possession stuff has been great. He is physically strong and dominant so he can defend as well.
“He has the attributes, it’s just him knuckling down, keeping his head down and working hard to improve his game.”
Evatt felt Gordon produced his best Bolton performance in the recent friendly win against Preston North End at Leyland, a game in which both full-backs proved invaluable in possession.
The opponents exhibited some tactical similarities with the side Wanderers meet on the opening day of the League One season, MK Dons.
And Evatt hopes his defensive wide men can prove equally effective as the season goes on.
“Without giving too much away, I study the top of the game a hell of a lot and what the best managers and coaches do with their full backs,” he said. “And they can be a real asset, a real powerhouse.
“You can create overloads in midfield. You can get them on the last line attacking. There are lots of different scenarios where we can use them to try and affect the opposition.
“Particularly against three at the back and when you are playing against a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3, our 4-3-3 formation can really cause teams problems.
“If you get that detail and that tactical detail right, and I thought we did against Preston, then it can really work.
“Barrow have predominantly played three at the back as well, so it was all good practice for that first game of the season.”
One tactical measure Evatt will not be able to use this season is five substitutes, with the EFL now reverting back to the pre-pandemic three-per-game.
Clubs were allowed an extra two replacements to counteract the physical effects of a truncated season but with all signs now pointing towards a return to normality, Evatt expects normal service to be resumed.
“Obviously, we will have no keeper on the bench, so I’ll get stick for that,” he smirked. “Three subs is how it has always been, I suppose.
“I think with five we have been spoiled for choice. Last season it served us quite well because some of the last-minute goals we scored were a result of being able to change more or less our whole forward line. Some of those goals earned us results.
“But this season I think it is the right thing to do to go back to three and have seven subs sat on the bench.”
Wanderers will also bring opposition teams back into the away dressing room this season at the UniBol, having used the hotel for temporary changing facilities last year.