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Every Bolton player rated for their pre-season performances

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

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Three wins, two draws, two defeats – and most importantly an empty treatment room, Wanderers’ lengthy pre-season schedule has generally gone according to plan.

Starting with a week-long training camp in Lagos, Portugal, Ian Evatt has been open about how demanding he has been on the squad since their return in late June.

Keen to improve robustness and avoid some of the injuries which bit hard last winter and ultimately spoiled a promotion push, the Bolton boss has changed training schedules and workloads on the advice of his sports science department.

On the field, performances have been generally sound. The goal-fest at non-league Longridge Town was a nice way to start the summer and three behind-closed-doors friendlies against Stockport County, Wigan Athletic and Watford meant some of their work was done away from the public eye.

Their return in front of supporters against Carlisle United was a damp squib but, thankfully, an encouraging display against Huddersfield Town left a sweeter taste in the mouth in the week leading up to the Ipswich game, where the real business begins.

Here we look through Evatt’s first team squad to assess how they have fared in pre-season and which players look in the best vein of form as they go to Portman Road.

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JAMES TRAFFORD – Joined up after the Portugal trip and buoyed by a new long-term deal at Manchester City, the young goalkeeper faces an important season. Changed some people’s perceptions from January onwards and has looked solid since his return. 7

JOEL DIXON – There were plenty of people queuing to write off his Bolton career, including one national report that claimed he was heading back to Barrow. Dixon has instead turned in some fine performances and showed he is ready to challenge Trafford. 7

ADAM SENIOR – He may be facing a season primarily spent in the B Team but Senior looks to have developed physically and he has never been afraid to enter the first team fray. A season of development ahead. 6

GETHIN JONES – Barring a minor injury blip, Jones has returned looking as calm and collected as ever. He seems to have the backing as right-sided centre-back for now and has formed a reasonable link with loanee Bradley. 6.5

DECLAN JOHN– Looks fit and sharp, especially on the most recent evidence of Saturday’s game against Huddersfield. The Welshman faces a strong challenge from Jack Iredale but won’t give up his place easily. 7

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RICARDO SANTOS – Injured at the end of last season and a player who naturally might take time to hit his stride, Santos has had a few ups and downs since returning to action in June. His influence behind the scenes is improving, however, and he is becoming the captain Evatt wants him to be. Watch this space. 6

GEORGE JOHNSTON – Of all the defensive options, Johnston has returned looking to most eager to impress. Physically more imposing and ever eager to look for a pass, last season’s young player of the year looks to have levelled up. 7.5

JACK IREDALE – Looks positive in possession and has a deceptive turn of pace, too, the Australian defender has turned in a couple of very eye-catching performances this summer to suggest he can challenge Johnston or John for a place in the side. 6.5

WILL AIMSON – Good pro who rarely lets the side down when called upon – and it has been a similar story through pre-season. May have to wait for his chance but always looks ready to step in. 6

CONOR BRADLEY – Put in some genuinely encouraging performances in an attacking sense and is happy to hunt down possession and win in back for his side. The Liverpool loanee has pedigree aplenty but can he cope defensively with the best League One has to offer? 7

MAX CONWAY – One to watch this season. Growing into a young man who can handle the physicality of senior football and has the technical skills and attitude to give himself a chance of success. 6

MJ WILLIAMS – His performance at Watford was a benchmark. Wanderers don’t have anyone who can do his job quite as well, so hopefully a season of fitness and form awaits. 7

KIERAN SADLIER – Had the last say with that stunning goal against Huddersfield, having played as an alternative wing-back to Bradley. Whether the position maximises his talent is a matter of debate. 6.5

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AARON MORLEY – Tore through some of the non-league sides at the start of the summer and was one of the better players in defeat at Carlisle. His set piece deliveries have been a game-changer since January too. 7

KIERAN LEE – Missed out on the Portugal trip for the arrival of a new child but caught up quickly and scored in the win at Watford. Hasn’t yet hit his best form, nor would you have wanted him to do so, but still so important to the cause. 6

KYLE DEMPSEY – Off-the-field matters aside, Dempsey has looked like a player determined to make up for time lost at the start of his Bolton career. Returned in top shape and has had a buzz about him since day one. 7

GEORGE THOMASON – Keen to show he is first team material at Wanderers and that he has progressed past the raw talent stage, Thomason is another player who has improved his physique. Some decent performances over pre-season, too. 6

JON DADI BODVARSSON – The popular striker has carried a couple of minor ailments but grabbed two pre-season goals and has looked in good touch. Missing the Huddersfield game might mean a place on the bench, at first, against Ipswich. 6.5

DION CHARLES – After breaking a drought on the last day of the season, Charles has returned in great nick. A hat-trick against Longridge, another one at Chorley, that same buzzing style integral to the effective pressing game Evatt wants. 8

AMADOU BAKAYOKO – A minor injury before the Wigan game meant he had to take a slightly different route in recent weeks. Scored at Longridge and had played international football for Sierra Leone, so has hardly stopped! 6

DAPO AFOLAYAN – Three goals in pre-season, a new deployment as a central striker, and a handful of man-of-the-match performances mean last season’s player of the year heads into the current campaign in top form. 8.5

ELIAS KACHUNGA – Scored three in his first three games then missed a penalty against Wigan. Kachunga looks lean and keen to enjoy himself in League One, having played catch-up for a lot of last season. 6.5

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