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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » Are Wanderers well-stocked? - Every position in Ian Evatt's squad analysed

Are Wanderers well-stocked? - Every position in Ian Evatt's squad analysed

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

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Whether you believe Wanderers strengthened their squad sufficiently in the summer window or they are still a few men short, September may provide an answer one way or another.

Starting with Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink’s Burton Albion and finishing on a midweek trip to Charlton, this month instantly looked Bolton’s toughest when the fixture lists were published back in June.

In between, Wanderers travel to old foes Ipswich Town, host promotion specialists Rotherham United, then go to Sunderland, who currently top the League One table.

It is a run of games that should provide an accurate litmus test, not only of the Whites’ own top six credentials, but of whether Evatt really does have the depth of squad to challenge at the top end of the table through the winter months.

After the emotion of deadline day subsided, we took a look at the squad in the cold light of day to assess where Wanderers are well-stocked and which players they desperately need to keep injury-free before the next transfer window opens.

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Quite unexpectedly, Wanderers’ goalkeeping hierarchy has flipped on its head over the summer as new arrival Joel Dixon took control of the number one spot from last season’s promotion hero Matt Gilks.

Initially, Gilks’ absence with Covid gave Dixon a greater share of the pre-season gametime. The veteran stopper started as first choice but struggled against MK Dons on the opening day and was immediately taken out of the firing line, dropping down to the bench for all but two cup games.

Dixon, well known to Evatt from their time at Barrow, has proved a solid addition thus far and looks to have the advantage over Gilks, even as he gets back to top condition.

Both young keepers, Matt Alexander (Lancaster) and Luke Hutchinson (Atherton Colls) have been sent out on youth loans.

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Evatt has options, including the potential of using Lloyd Isgrove or Brandon Comley in an emergency, but his top two choices both come with caveats.

Gethin Jones’ consistency last season earned him no shortage of praise but 75 per cent of his career appearances to that point had been at League Two level.

Over the last few weeks Jones has been heavily involved for the Whites, providing an outlet on the right and a tireless work-rate. There remain some question marks over the consistency of his delivery, particularly against Oxford and Cambridge, but Evatt looks to trust him as first-choice.

Harry Brockbank can fill in across the back line but has largely been employed down the right in the cup competitions. He fared better against Port Vale than in a difficult night at Wigan but still has to convince a few that he is a natural in this position, as opposed to a centre-half.

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Though illness and injury has disrupted Evatt’s senior quartet over the summer, things now appear to be settling down for Wanderers.

Ricardo Santos is feeling his way back to top shape but is yet to hit the imperious form of the previous campaign. Alongside him, George Johnston looks like a fine addition and barring one error on the opening day, full deserves to be the first name on the defensive line right now.

Alex Baptiste keeps on ticking, Will Aimson is now back in training after a groin injury and Adam Senior could be heading out on loan.

It appears, for now, that Evatt likes the idea of Santos and Johnston – a right and left-sided - centre back.

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After making a big impression last season, there was plenty of clamour among the supporters to see Declan John back in a Bolton shirt but few would have given Liam Gordon a good chance of getting back into he manager’s plans.

John has yet to hit top stride since re-signing, checked by a couple of minor injury issues in the last couple of weeks.

Gordon has filled in manfully and though he had an average night against Wigan in the Carabao Cup, he shone against Barnsley and Lincoln.

Provided John gets back to top speed, Evatt should have no major issues on the left.

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MJ Williams is out on his own as Bolton’s best defensive midfielder and has become so integral to the way the team plays, you do wonder how they would cope if he picked up an injury.

Kieran Lee is happy playing in a deeper midfield role too, although he is still playing catch-up on the fitness front at present after a bout of Covid in the summer.

Andy Tutte produced a tidy performance against Port Vale in the Papa John’s Trophy, a reminder that he is still a viable option. Brandon Comley is also milling around after a deadline day move to Leyton Orient failed to materialise, although is looks a long way back for him right now.

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Josh Sheehan has made an impressive start since switching from Newport on a free transfer and, alongside skipper Antoni Sarcevic, gives some attacking bite to the midfield trio.

The Welshman will be unavailable for Monday’s game against Burton, which provides Evatt with a quandary – push Lee into a more advanced position or bring in youngster George Thomason, whose only football so far this season has been in the cup competitions.

Even though Sheehan and Sarcevic have already hit the back of the net this season, there are still debates rumbling on about whether Evatt’s central midfield carries enough of a goal threat at this level.

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Xavier Amaechi’s pre-season injury put a spoke in the proverbial wheels for Bolton but Evatt’s attacking options are nothing if not versatile, and we should probably expect the rotation to continue right up to the next transfer window.

It is hoped that Hamburg loanee Amaechi will play before his current deals expires in January but, until then, a few players seem likely to share the position.

Lloyd Isgrove is the most specialised. The former Southampton man is defensively disciplined, hard-working and well-drilled in Evatt’s pressing game. He showed a different side to his game against Port Vale – and that performance should be enough to see him start against Burton.

Elias Kachunga can, and has, played everywhere across the front line. When fully fit we can probably expect him to compete with Isgrove, moving into the middle when Doyle needs a rest or is unavailable.

Amadou Bakayoko is also side-lined, more is the pity, as he had made an excellent start to life at Bolton and had forced his way into the team on the right after initially being billed as a rival for Doyle’s central position.

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Dapo Afolayan currently looks to have this one nailed down and he has been Bolton’s most effective attacking player this season, scoring three goals already.

Evatt has other options, including Nathan Delfouneso, who played more off the left side than down the middle last season.

But if Dapo were to pick up an injury there is no question that Wanderers would lose potency as a result.

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Eoin Doyle stands out alone as the specialist, and it is here that most of the Bolton faithful feel the squad is most vulnerable.

With a record of nearly one goal every two games at League One level, there is little concern over the Irishman’s pedigree, more than there is no obvious replacement if he were to become unavailable.

Kachunga has scored goals at higher levels, so perhaps we are doing him an injustice, but as Doyle edges towards his 34th birthday it could be asking a lot of him to spear-head the Wanderers attack for the next 42 league games.

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