END OF SEASON REVIEW: The Bolton Wanderer production line is potentially moving on to the seniors
THE fruits of Wanderers’ Under-21 development squad’s season were there for all to see at the end of the campaign with the progression of several young players into Dougie Freedman’s first-team ranks.
Oscar Threlkeld and Andy Kellett were handed senior debuts and there was also game time for forwards Tom Youngs and Chris Lester.
All four have starred for Jamie Fullarton’s development squad.
After an unbeaten pre-season campaign that saw them win four and draw two of six friendly outings, Fullarton’s team had a mixed season, finishing the FA U21 Premier League in a mid-table 13th position in the National Group.
After no wins in the first four games and one in the opening seven, results picked up, and there were some notable victories in their eight league wins including 5-2 at Spurs, 6-2 against Stoke and 3-2 against play-off semi-finalists Liverpool and 2-1 at home to Arsenal at home.
But it was perhaps their Lancashire FA Senior Cup exploits that stood out.
In round one they thumped Blackpool 7-2 away, with Conor Wilkinson, a summer arrival from Millwall scoring four to help Bolton into the last eight of the Senior Cup.
The 19-year-old spent time on loan at Chester and Torquay at senior level but in between hit 10 goals for the U21s in his first season at the club.
In the last eight, they were away to holders Manchester United, having already lost twice to the Red Devils – 4-1 in the league and 4-0 in the Manchester FA Senior Cup.
A last-gasp equaliser from Zach Clough took the game to penalties and Wanderers won the shootout 5-4.
A derby date with Bury in the final looked on the cards, but Fullarton’s men lost 2-1 at Wigan in the semi-finals.
Quarter-final hero Clough ended the season as the U21s’ top scorer with 11 goals – a good return for the 19-year-old Mancunian who had starred for the U18s in their run to the FA Youth Cup last eight in 2012/13.
Another striker who was promoted to the senior squad was Bulgarian Georg Iliev and he was third in the U21 scoring charts with eight goals, while Youngs netted six and both Lester and Sanmi Odelusi registered four goals.
With scope for even more improvement for all the promising youngsters, the development squad coaches can be proud of their work over the past nine months.