IN the first of a two-part interview, Ali Crawford explains why he feels he has not yet shown Bolton fans his top form – and why he felt sorry for Keith Hill and David Flitcroft.

HAD Ali Crawford avoided a serious knee injury last October, a very different picture might have emerged at Wanderers.

Handpicked as a midfield fulcrum and starting to find his rhythm after being ignored at Doncaster Rovers, the Scot had just helped the Whites to their first league win – and was running rings around Manchester City’s youngsters in the Trophy when disaster struck.

A meaningless half-challenge in a meaningless game left him side-lined for months and by the time he had returned all hope of escaping the drop had evaporated.

Nevertheless, Crawford managed to rediscover his form and fitness, only for the coronavirus pandemic to leave him unable to kick a ball in anger once again.

Thankfully, it was not the last we had seen of the 28-year-old playmaker. And once Ian Evatt had been officially appointed as the club’s new head coach, his first official act was to sign Crawford to a new two-year deal.

“It was quite a lot of waiting around,” Crawford laughed. “I didn’t know exactly where I stood until the new manager came in and when he said he wanted to keep me I was more than happy to stay.

“The people at Bolton have been really good to me and I’d enjoyed my time there, even with everything that happened last season, my injury, and such like.

“But, yeah, there’s a feeling I have got more to show.”

Crawford’s last campaign can be summed up in two short bursts.

“It was very frustrating because about six or seven games in I was just getting into my stride when the injury happened. It was an innocuous challenge… Not even a challenge. But it shows you that such a little amount of contact can cause a lot of damage.

“By the time I came back I had another five or six games and I thought Burton was probably the best I’d played in a Bolton shirt, but then it all stopped.

“There’s nothing worse when you’re a footballer than sitting in the stands and knowing you could have made a difference. And I believe I could have made a difference.”

When Crawford came in from Doncaster there were high hopes that an influx of signings could preserve Bolton’s League One status.

Hill and Flitcroft were appointed on a wave of optimism, magnified by the relief of Football Ventures’ takeover. But the honeymoon period proved a short one for the managerial team, and Crawford has sympathy with some of the problems they experienced.

“I think at one stage we had 12 players out injured – and not fringe players, but first team regulars,” he said. “No team is going to cope with that, so I felt sorry for them in a way.

“I was looking on knowing I couldn’t help the lads but some of the stuff that happened, some of the injuries, were so unfortunate. It made it virtually impossible.”