FORMER Wanderers defender Nicky Hunt believes developing young talent is crucial for his home-town club to go forward.

The Westhoughton-born full-back came through the Whites ranks himself to go on and play more than 150 times for the first team.

During a decade with the club, Hunt spent time out on loan at both Birmingham and Derby before leaving in 2010 to join Bristol City.

Those spells away came at the end of his time but he believes the fact some of the next generation of young defenders at the club are out on loan early in their careers can only benefit them as they look to forge a career, either at Wanderers or elsewhere in the future.

Joe Riley (Oxford) and Hayden White (Bury) are both playing at League Two level, as is Andy Kellett who has recently extended his loan at Plymouth Argyle under former Wanderers midfielder John Sheridan for a second month.

Strikers Conor Wilkinson and Georg Iliev have also been out on loan at Oldham and Carlisle respectively this season.

Hunt, who now plays for Accrington Stanley, told The Bolton News: "I played against Joe Riley recently who is on loan at Oxford and he is doing well down there.

"It shows what these players can do at first-team level.

"Playing first-team football, even at League Two level, can be massive for younger players.

"Reserve football is a decent level but does not compare to senior football.

"Even the Conference is a much more competitive league these days.

"Any experience they can get out on loan will obviously help their development and I think it is good for them and the club to see how they get on."

Hunt broke into the Whites first team as a 17-year-old, making his debut from the bench on the final day of the 2000/01 season against Sheffield United.

He then had to wait for his Premier League debut, at Manchester United on the opening day of the 2003/04 campaign but went on to become a regular in Sam Allardyce's side

Not many have broken through to establish themselves like Hunt since but he says that should not deter the club from investing in the Eddie Davies Academy and bringing players through and handing them their chance to impress.

He believes that, with finances tighter than ever at the Macron Stadium, developing home-grown talent is as important as it has ever been.

The 31-year-old added: "It’s a sign when youngsters break through that the club is going in the right direction.

"We have seen a few come in recently.

"Youth is always going to be a massive part of clubs like Bolton that haven’t got the finances to go out and buy £10million players.

"It is imperative for the stature of the club to go forward.

"You want to develop young players for the first team and keep them.

"But it can also be profitable for the club to develop players and sell them on.

"Either way, you need to keep looking to develop your own players."