It is a little odd after the last few years to actually have a number of players still in contract for next season. After a number of extensive squad rebuilds it will offer some welcome continuity to Ian Evatt as he looks to pull together a squad capable of challenging for promotion once more.
For the purposes of these articles, I have assumed we will want three players to cover each position. I have also worked on the assumption that we will want to bring in a fresh face in each position to add new competition, and hopefully further quality to the squad. In addition, I will work on the basis of a 20 player squad limit, plus under 21s, which I believe is still accurate.
Working with the 4-2-3-1 formation utilised at the end of the season that works out in my mind as two keepers, seven defenders, five midfielders, four wingers and two strikers, plus some youngsters and flexible cover
So, down to it...
Bolton Wanderers currently have four goalkeepers on their books, and in the first team squad. There are the two loanees Billy Crellin and Lukas Jensen along with player-coach Matt Gilks and youngster Matthew Alexander.
I don’t think it will be controversial for me to say that I would not be looking to bring Crellin back in on loan next season. Jensen is a more difficult one to judge and will come down to how he has been training, his loan spell in Iceland and his position with Burnley. If he has done enough to convince Evatt he is capable of playing League One football next season I would have no issue with him being kept on. If there is any doubt on that front though, we should be looking elsewhere. He is 22 so would count within the squad as Gilks’ main competition.
Gilks without a doubt played a key role in our promotion bid and has stated his intention to keep on going if possible. I would certainly keep him around next year, hopefully with another goalkeeper ready to really push him for the starting spot.
Alexander is a more difficult one to judge. The youngster would fall outside the squad limit so should be retained, unless there is a more promising young goalkeeper waiting in the wings. Efforts should be made though to find him a work experience loan so that he can continue his development with regular football.
Bolton ended the season with four left backs on their books. Declan John and Ben Jackson were both in on loan, playing an important role in getting Bolton promoted. Liam Gordon and Jamie Mascoll started the season as Bolton’s two left backs, but have both been moved out on loan.
Starting with the two loanees, based on last season I would be looking to keep them both on. John is out of contract this summer and his signature should be a priority. At 25 he is a perfect age to kick on an improve with Bolton as we look to make the step back up to the Championship.
Jackson is also out of contract at Huddersfield Town, but given his age they may look to keep him on a little longer. Again, a move should be made for him, assuming he is happy to compete with one of the best left backs below the Championship. At the age of 20 he would also nicely open up another space in the squad.
Mascoll is also out of contract this summer, and with his failure to impress Evatt at the beginning of the season is highly unlikely to be kept on. I would certainly not be looking to extend his stay at the club.
Gordon is under contract for another year and in my view should be kept on. He has shown flashes of what he is capable of while out on loan at Dagenham and Redbridge and should be given another year, either at the club or out on loan, to prove that he has what it takes to be a league player.
Hopefully our summer business will be straight forward with the return of our loan stars, but who knows. I will leave the space created by Jackson unallocated on the basis that if we miss out in him, or a youngster of his calibre, we will need to bring in another left back.
Down the right hand side we have Gethin Jones, Jak Hickman and Harry Brockbank.
Hickman is another who failed to impress Evatt earlier in the season before being loaned out. I would be amazed if his one year deal is extended.
Talk is that Jones’ contract has an option for a second year in it which will be triggered. He has been a brilliant player over the last season for Bolton putting in consistent and sometimes exceptional performances. He is one where I would be slightly more concerned about the step up to League One, but on balance I think it would be the right decision to keep him around for another year.
Brockbank is another player whose contract is up this summer. Injuries stopped him from making a bid to make the right back position his own this season, but he did have the opportunity to show that he does have the ability to be a consistent performer for Bolton. His versatility is a plus as well, as he can also play centre back and left back. A decision on his contract is a more difficult decision given the players in the squad and the desire to add further quality for competition. His versatility means on balance I would keep him on for another year.
Keeping Brockbank and Jones would mean there is no need for any incoming business at right back, allowing attention to be focused elsewhere.
Bolton have a plethora of centre backs with mainstays Alex Baptiste and Ricardo Santos joined by Ryan Delaney, Reiss Greenidge, Liam Edwards, Adam Senior and (I do not know for sure if he is a centre back) Markus Assarsson.
Some refreshing of the squad is most definitely needed in this position.
Santos and Baptiste should both be kept at the club. I would give Baptiste another year and attempt to bring in another centre back to really push for his starting spot alongside Santos. They account for two of the three places I have allocated for centre backs over 21.
Delaney and Greenidge in my view are surplus to requirements and are the players we should be looking to move on. Letting those two go, bringing in another centre back and retaining Senior and Assarsson as the younger back up options outside of the 20 man squad limit should serve us well.
Senior should be sent out on loan to gain some experience and so that the club can properly assess whether he will be able to ultimately make the grade. The younger Assarsson may also benefit from a work experience arrangement.
The difficult one to judge is Edwards who has been out for so long with a serious injury. Given his age and promise, I would look to give him next season, out on loan, to build himself back up and then take stock on his future. There would not be amu space for him in the squad, unless we do not bring in a new centre back which I think would be a mistake.
Supplementing this would be MJ Williams who can slot into defence and the versatile Brockbank.