NEIL Lennon believes a spell out of the comfort zone for Josh Vela will be good for his long term development.

After throwing the 21-year-old in as an emergency right-back after an injury to Kevin McNaughton, the Wanderers boss has been pleasantly surprised with how well he has coped.

Vela had made all his previous appearances for the Whites as a central midfielder but has steadily grown into his role in the back four over the last two months.

And Lennon reckons the Academy graduate has done himself the world of good by showing he has another string to his bow.

“I’ve been really happy with how he has coped there,” he told The Bolton News. “He’s getting better with every game.

“I think this whole experience will make him a better player. He might have been around the club for a long time but this is only really right now he’s broken into the team.

“It’s great that he has that versatility, he’s an intelligent footballer which is always a help in someone so young.”

Lennon admits his over-stocked midfield may have made first team opportunities harder to come by for Vela had McNaughton not picked up a hamstring injury back in late October.

The Salford-born ball-winner has now featured in each of the last nine games under Lennon, having been frozen out completely under previous boss Dougie Freedman.

Now Lennon is looking to Vela to continue his development and admits he may have to mature physically before he commands a regular role in midfield.

“There’s no question the spell he’s had at right-back will stand him in good stead for when we bring him forward into midfield,” he said.

“He can handle the ball and I’ve seen him play midfield and he’s an excellent player. Once he puts a bit of beef on him, I tend to think we’ll eventually see him in midfield.”

Intriguingly, Vela could have a new rival for the right-back spot in specialist Joe Riley, who is set to return from a loan spell at Oxford United.

Another youth product, the 23-year-old has featured extensively for the U’s in League Two, making 28 appearances and putting to rest concerns over his fitness after a string of unfortunate injuries in his early Whites career.

His loan had been due to expire on New Year’s Day but the relevant paperwork has now been secured to allow Riley to feature against Cheltenham Town this weekend.

It then remains to be seen whether Lennon will sanction a further loan, or bring him back into the fold before the Championship clash with Leeds United on January 10.