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End Of Season Awards: Bolton Wanderers Young Player Of The Season

So ladies and gentleman, we come to the vote for our club's coveted young player of the season award.

Michael Steele/Getty Images

In bygone times we may have been sat here contemplating whether to vote for Eidur Gudjohnsen or Emile Heskey, such was the paucity of young players making our first team.

Instead, we are blessed with a plethora of worthy individuals to bestow upon the title of Young Player of The Season (or YPOTS, just so I don't have to write it in full every time)

From the four obvious and outstanding candidates there are really only two major contenders in all honesty to win the award and the quality of their contribution to what has been in essence a pretty dismal season overall cannot be underestimated.

So to our first nominee.

1) Josh Vela

This 21 year-old Salfordian first broke into the Bolton Wanderers squad four seasons ago under Owen Coyle in a 1-1 home draw with Swansea in our ill-fated relegation campaign.

Subject of a rumoured £1million bid from Liverpool as a 16 year-old this was one player the Whites' fans have been waiting to breakthrough for what seems like an age.

It would take some brief cameo's, often cut short by injury, in early round League Cup games, a stand out performance in a narrow home reverse to Everton in the FA Cup at The Reebok (as it was then fondly known) and a loan spell aimed at toughening up the youngster in a relegation battle at League One Notts County for this highly regarded midfielder to finally become the fully fledged first team regular we all hoped he would.

It mainly took the end of Douglas Freedman's reign of terror on all things youth for him to show us all what we've been missing and nail down a spot as a marauding right-back as Neil Lennon was forced into giving him a tough baptism of fire in his first prolonged run in the senior ranks.

The tenacious youngster shone in this unfamiliar role, so much so his place was never questioned after showing maturity and a fearless attitude when up against some tricky wingers.

Eventually, young Josh was thrust into a midfield role towards the season's climax and coped admirably, putting in some stellar performances.

His level dipped a little after a run of 20-25 consecutive games in a hectic period for the club and he missed the last few games of the season with a niggling injury, Lennon wisely feeling it better not to risk a talented player whose career thus far has been beset by injury issues.

If you feel that Joshua has done enough in his 30 first team appearances in this breakthrough season to be crowned our YPOTS then you know what to do...

2) Zach Clough

The next man, or should I say boy wonder, on our list needs no introduction.

Named in The Guardian's top 7 players outside the Premier League (alongside Vela), this precociously talented Denton-born potential superstar even made his Nan briefly famous around the country after his debut goal saw off relegation fodder and copious pie-eaters Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup 3rd round.

Zach Clough has been around our youth team long enough for most of our fan base to be aware of his talent.

We eventually got to see what the fuss was about on a cold January afternoon at a half full Macron Stadium in need of a winter warmer. And boy was it worth the wait.

The fact the then 19 year-old was quite easily the stand out player on a pitch full of FA Cup Winners and ex-Premier League players was nothing short of an outstanding accolade.

A performance full of verve, panache, lightening movement and fearlessness rightly earned him plaudits from near, such as John Gwynn, the well respected local commentator who called it the 'most exciting debut he had seen in 20 years', to as far afield as Gary Lineker on Match of The Day that night.

And of course his own Nan, who lit up the airwaves on BBC Radio Manchester with Jimmy Wagg, eulogising over his ability and down to earth nature whilst also describing how her Grandson is now just about taller than her!

This virtuoso debut proved not to be a flash in the pan as he terrorised the Liverpool defence in the 4th round replay defeat, confusing Martin Skrtel into conceding a debatable penalty.

Five further goals of the utmost quality followed, bagging braces in the home draw with Wolves and the excruciating narrow loss to Watford.

All goals were differing strikes but showcased a player who clearly knows where the goal is from any distance, whether it be cushioned finishes from ten yards out like his goals against The Hornets, or the confident and precise free-kick that nestled in the corner versus Wolves.

His final goal, the priceless winner at home to Brighton illustrated what Clough is all about as he took a well hit ball from Vela in his instep beautifully before swivelling in one motion, Dennis Bergkamp-esque, away from his marker before caressing the ball simply into the opposite corner, out of reach from the goalkeeper.

That his fledgling season was cut cruelly short by a painful dislocated shoulder after Nathaniel Chalobah's robust, if not over zealous, challenge was a body blow to the fans as well as the young hot-shot himself obviously.

What it might have done, however perversely, was slow the interest from the big clubs that will surely materialise again when he regains fitness and his first team spot

Such is the bizarre nature of squad numbers these days, many have commented that he is already the best No.40 Bolton Wanderers have ever seen.

If he continues his upward trajectory he may just become the best player we have ever produced, in the modern era anyway.

With 10 appearance including two as sub and 6 goals, does Zach Clough get your vote as our YPOTS.

You decide....

The next two candidates have had excellent breakthrough's in their own right and fully deserve their spot in the poll.

3) Max Clayton

Long touted as the next big thing from Crewe's star studded production line, Clayton's promising start to his career as a striker at 'The Alex' stalled after a broken ankle.

Despite a patchy record since the injury, his obvious promise meant Sunderland and Wolves had him on trial and a stint in Denmark was mooted before, at the second time of asking, Dougie Freedman brought him to the club.

Another youngster not deemed ready by the dour Scot, Clayton finally got his chance to shine under Lennon.

Four substitute appearances were followed by his full debut under the floodlights and intense pressure of a local derby with Wigan on Friday 7th November.

Not only did Max cope with the occasion, he flourished and ran onto Chungy's fine through ball and showed the finishing prowess of a seasoned veteran by slotting the ball through the legs of Scott Carson to set us on the way to a resounding and thoroughly enjoyable 3-1 victory that set us up for a run that ultimately saved our necks.

Four more starts ensued until his season came to an abrupt end on the 13th December as an innocuous turn transpired to be a cruciate knee ligament injury.

Let's hope this horrible injury doesn't reoccur as Max, still only 20, was a breath of fresh air, adapting to play a wide left role and putting in a great shift for the team in which he beguiled opposition defences with his movement and touch.

Is Max Clayton your choice for Bolton Wanderer's YPOTS?

4) Tom Walker

The last man on this list is another Salford native and came into the side as a relative unknown to those who aren't boffins or take a keen interest in our youth team.

A certain Tom Walker hit a hat-trick as part of the team that dismantled Spurs 8-4 on their own ground in the Youth Cup over 3 years ago and indeed Zach Clough was a scorer that day too.

Walker was on the fringes of the first team for a number of months, sporadically making the bench and eventually replacing the legend that is Eidur Gudjohnsen during injury time in the 1-1 draw with Leeds United on the 10th January.

Six further unused substitute appearances in the remainder of January and February followed for the 19 year-old left footer until Lennon thrust him into the starting line up on the left wing on Saturday 14th March at home to struggling Millwall.

His performance that day divided opinion somewhat but showed a young player not afraid to take chances and run at players, with a left foot capable of delivering a quality ball.

Nine more appearances have followed, with differing degrees of success but one ball in for Le Fondre's near post equaliser against Norwich was a thing of beauty.

His debut goal for the Whites came in somewhat fortuitous circumstances at the DW Stadium as his shot took a wicked deflection and wrong footed ex-Wanderer Ali Al-Habsi in the Wigan goal. They all count!

His debut season ended in ten appearances and just the one goal.

His undoubted promise as the 3rd bonafide academy product to burst onto the scene this season is a source of pride amongst the fans and we hope to see more of him in the season to come.

Let's hope that this is as a winger and not as a wing back, where his lack of strength and defensive attributes make him an unsuitable option.

Does Tom Walker get your vote?

All worthy candidates and I am sure you will use your vote wisely.

More important than the general election tonight?

You betcha'!!!