With Dougie Freedman promising to promote from within the club's own academy, Bolton fans will be wanting to keep a keen eye on the Development Squad/Under 21's/Reserves or whatever they're calling it these days. Despite kicking their U21 Premier League campaign off with a 1-0 defeat away to Sunderland last week, there is an added focus on Bolton Wanderers' Development Squad since Dougie Freedman took over and appointed Jamie Fullarton to coach the club's aspiring youngsters. This is a look at who's who.
Sanmi Odelusi, a player who quite frankly, didn't look like he had the talent to make it, has knuckled down under Fullarton and impressed Freedman to the point where he handed the winger his first start in the Capital One Cup. Odelusi then repaid Dogie's faith by scoring two goals as Bolton ran out 3-1 winners, with the second in particular a very accomplished finish.
Also in the squad for the game was captain of the U21's Cian Bolger and Tom Eaves, who managed to force his way into the first team at the end of last season after impressive loan spells at Shrewsbury Town and Bristol Rovers.
Freedman's has also signed players with a view to the Development Squad:
Jan Gregus, who played a very prominent part in pre-season with Freedman experimenting with his versatility across midfield. He scored an eye-catching goal on his debut for the U21's last season.
(Skip to 1:40 for the goal.)
Cian Bolger, the aforementioned centre back and captain of the U21's, who was snapped up from Leicester CIty after three loan spells at Bristol Rovers. The most prominent of which saw him play 39 games, scoring twice. Has been in and around Bolton's matchday squads this season, making the bench against Shrewsbury Town in the Capital One Cup.
Conor Wilkinson, a tall, fast striker who has interested Benfica in the past. He scored six goals for Millwall's U21's in the first half of last season and in the second half, he was on Millwall's bench for their FA Cup run which saw them eventually knocked out in the Semi-Finals.
In addition to players he's signed, Freedman has also spoke of players who he believes can make the step up:
Chris Lester, an 18 year old, old-fashioned winger with an eye for goal. Freedman showed faith in him last season by having him on the bench for two Championship games and he was set to make his debut at home to Middlesbrough but the match ended before he could get on the pitch.
Zach Clough, an 18 year old goal machine, who Freeman has spoken very highly of. He scored a bundle of goals for the U18's at the start of last season and very quickly progressed to the U21's and into the first team picture with Freedman teasing that he'd give him a chance at the end of last season. A groin injury in pre-season was disappointing but once he gets back to full fitness, he could be a very exciting player this season
(Skip to 0:39 for a very nice Zach Clough goal)
Jay Lynch, small for a goalkeeper but makes up for it with his astonishing agility and shot stopping ability, Lynch is a very able third choice keeper and Fabrice Muamba picked him out before the season as one of three players to watch for Bolton this season.
There are also players who have been handed first team squad numbers, an indication that Freedman may use them at some stage:
Oscar Threlkeld, a 19 year old Bolton lad whose main strength is his versatility. He can play across the back four and also in centre midfield. This has made him a very valuable asset to Jamie Fullarton and he is a staple in the U21 team.
Luke Woodland, an England U18 international who is currently injured but is a very cultured centre midfielder when fit and has a huge amount of potential if he can stay injury free.
Andy Kellett, an odd one. He had the squad number 28 last season until Craig Davies' arrival but has no longer got a squad number despite being on the bench in the pre-season friendly against Carlisle and being the Development Squad's first choice left back. He showed a lot of potential in 2011/12 as an attacking fullback but his progress appears to have stalled a little. He is technically the club's second choice natural left back though.
Throughout the season, I will be attending the vast majority of Bolton U21's home games at the County Ground and I will try to give an in-depth look into the youngsters for those who don't find it so easy to get there.
If you want to check them out for yourself, the first home game of the season is tonight at County Ground, Leyland. 7pm kickoff. It is also free entry for season ticket holders.