There wasn't much to shout about being a Bolton Wanderers fan last season, but one of the most encouraging things was the emergence of youth and Neil Lennon's anti-Dougie philosophy of actually playing them.
With the financial restraints we're currently under, it would be no surprise to see more follow in the footsteps of Josh Vela, Zach Clough and Tom Walker this season, and get thrown in at the deep end.
But which ones may have to step up? As somebody who attends as many U21 games as I possibly can, I'll try and shed some light on a few players who have made less than five appearances for the first team:
Probably the player on this list who can make the most immediate impact is Bolton's very own Andy Kellett. After a couple of very promising cameos at the end of the 2013/14 season, Dougie Freedman did that thing where he just completely took Kellett out of the first team picture (probably to change the way he runs or some other nonsense). The wing-back then flourished on loan at Plymouth Argyle, even managing to score a solo goal that Gareth Bale would be proud of. January then brought around one of the strangest transfer twists in history. Just as Andy was set to return to Plymouth for the duration of the season, some small team down the road, by the name of Manchester United nipped in and requested his services in place of Saidy Janko. It wasn't too long before Kellett established himself as an important part of the United U21 title winning squad, catching the eye with his marauding runs down the wing, even grabbing a couple of assists before the season was out. The experience he would have gained training with such big players and the winning mentality he developed will be invaluable in his development. However I see him further up the field than left-back and the thought of him, Clough and Clayton behind a striker has me salivating.
When we signed Quade Taylor along with Ross Fitzsimmons last summer, I very much thought that this was a couple of Dougie Freedman's 'jobs for the boys' (see: Owen Garvan). However the former Crystal Palace centre back cemented his place in the heart of our U21 defence and is also their captain. A quick and classy presence, he also seems to be a born leader. He certainly didn't let anybody down when he made his debut against Birmingham City at the end of last season, looking more at home in the first team than the more experienced Oscar Threlkeld. With our current dearth of centre backs, one has to think that there will be more opportunities for him next season.
Another who had a disappointing time on loan last season was young forward Kaiyne Woolery. The former Tamworth youngster, who is equally adept up front or out wide, earned a surprise loan move to Notts County in January, despite only being on the fringes of our U21 team at that point but he managed to get a Man of the Match award on his debut. The rest of his loan spell was poor to say the least with County fans not having much nice to say about him at all. However when he returned to the U21's he looked a different player, his pace is absolutely electric and his direct running became the undoing of United's U21's, as Woolery scored a very cool chip (after a lovely weighted through ball from Quade Taylor) and we beat them. He made his debut in front of the Sky cameras against Bournemouth and I think he could be a very useful secret weapon off the bench next season if he keeps it up.
I can't say I'm totally convinced by Hayden White, but as our only natural right-back with first-team experience (Threlkeld is a centre back by trade) he's worth a look. The 20-year-old started the season on the fringes of the first team, making appearances against Middlesbrough, Brighton and Leeds United. He was then loaned out to Carlisle and lit up League Two with his lightning-quick pace and crossing ability. Then it all went downhill quite quickly; a red card for Carlisle, for an absolutely horrendous challenge, followed immediately by a bizarre loan move to Bury, where he made just two appearances, compounded by a disastrous spell at Notts County which saw him struggle to make the bench at times doesn't bode well for his future.
With Conor Wilkinson looking likely to leave in this transfer window, the only real striker we have left in reserve is this lad. Managing to score 15 goals for the U18s despite missing a few months through injury, it perhaps came as a surprise that the Welsh striker wasn't offered a professional contract. Thomas himself seemed to throw a little paddy on twitter about this, showing that he still needs to mature and I did say at the time that he is his own biggest fan, frequently sharing videos of his goalscoring exploits and 'unbelievable tekkers' (see below). But let's cut him some slack; the lad is 18-years-old, his goalscoring record is very impressive and he does seem to score a range of goals from free-kicks to long-range lobs to simple tap-ins. He managed to make five U21 appearances last season, scoring a goal against Blackburn Rovers, hopefully he can build on this form and who knows, maybe we've already found this goalscoring striker that we can't seem to afford.