Back in October 2015 (which now seems a long, long time ago) I wrote an article clamouring for Bolton Wanderers to give youth a chance then, three months later, followed it up by celebrating the benefits of giving said youth a go in the first-team.
Way back then, albeit often enforced through injury, the likes of Rob Holding, Josh Vela, Zach Clough, Tom Walker and Kaiyne Woolery were, to some extent, flourishing for Wanderers. Two have since been sold for relatively decent money, one is still in our first-team and being linked with interest from other clubs and two have, well, not quite had the same level of success.
Then we had the likes of Jamie Thomas and Alex Samizadeh who, despite plenty of intrigue and promise, never quite made it and were allowed to move on - although the latter scored an absolute belter this week. While players like Niall Maher, Oscar Threlkeld and Alex Finney were given chances but ultimately deemed not good enough.
Given our current predicament, and particularly in light of the dire performance against Burton Albion on Saturday, I think it’s high time we asked - is it once again time to blood the youth?
Here’s a quick look at the current crop of youth candidates who could potentially make the step up.
The obvious first in line to the first-team is free-scoring Connor Hall. The striker has scored 12 goals in his last 12 games for our Under 23s side, after scoring again against Leeds United yesterday.
That’s in stark comparison to Gary Madine - who has 6 goals in 23 appearances this season and 22 goals in 101 games for Bolton, and only scored in 20 of those - and the waste of space that is Aaron Wilbraham, who has yet to score for the club in 13 appearances - seriously, why did we bother signing this guy?
Hall has been named on the Bolton substitutes bench twice but not yet made the step up onto the pitch, and it’s pretty hard to fathom. If it’s a tactical issue then, well, that’s just depressing, because our tactics are utterly dire. I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s sick of this ‘boot the ball to Madine and hope for the best’ philosophy and 16 points from 22 Championship matches proves this approach clearly isn’t working.
In Connor Hall, and the absent Adam Le Fondre of course, we evidently have someone who knows how to score goals. So why don’t we give him a chance and play to his strengths? I’d much rather support that than dull hoofball tactics at a bloke with minimal footballing talent.
The 18-year-old is clearly a goalkeeper with bags of talent having represented England at Under-19 level. He’s also impressed in the Under 18s and Under 23s, but whether he’s quite ready for first-team duties yet - despite being named on the substitutes bench several times - remains to be seen. After all, Ben Alnwick has been decent this season and had several good games, but he does have a dumb mistake in him on occasion.
Goalkeeper is probably the number one position where you can’t really risk chucking in someone with zero experience, but Turner has still yet to make a single appearance for the club - so when do you judge the time to be right?
I saw King make his debut in the EFL Cup at West Ham United, and actually thought he did OK considering he was up against the Premier League outfit’s first choice midfield. He then started the 2-0 league defeat at Bristol City and again did alright in a team that was clearly bereft of form and confidence, but hasn’t been seen since.
The midfielder stepped into the first-team last season for the EFL Trophy game against Everton, then started the FA Cup first round clash with Grimsby Town and made a good first impression. Since then, nothing, it’s all gone very quiet, so who knows what is going on there?
Another midfielder Earing has gone one step further than Perry and made the first-team this season, appearing in the EFL Cup game against Crewe Alexandra and coming on as a substitute at West Ham, and looked good in pre-season appearances. But again, he’s not had any kind of look-in when it’s come to league games.
Earing’s fellow Under 23 teammates Ryan White and Harry Brockbank also made first-team appearances in pre-season, impressed but then haven’t been seen since. While 16-year-old Max Broughton has apparently been linked with a £1 million move to Manchester United, in addition to interest from the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea.
The impressive rise of Rob Holding is a case in point that previous first-team experience is irrelevant. Holding stepped up as an untested right-back due to a lack of defensive options and swiftly - and I’m talking 10 games or so - became our best player and earned himself a move to Arsenal, where he has already made 32 appearances and played, and scored a goal, in the Champions League.
Given the way that Bolton are playing at the moment, in addition to the clear lack of interest and talent from some senior players, I can’t see any harm in giving some of these young players a chance.
Have you seen any of these youngsters play? Could they make the step up to the first-team? And is there anyone else in the youth ranks that we’ve missed off this list? Let us know in the Comments section below.