JOSH Vela’s season may be through but Neil Lennon believes the youngster has got plenty to be proud about after breaking into the senior ranks in style in the last six months.

A groin strain means the midfielder will miss tonight’s trip to Bournemouth and the final game at home to Birmingham City and will finish the campaign with 32 appearances under his belt.

Every one of those game was played since Lennon walked through the doors of the Macron Stadium in October – and few others have flourished quite as much since the Northern Irishman’s arrival.

On the verge of quitting the club and banished to the development squad under Dougie Freedman, Vela blended in effortlessly as a makeshift right-back before earning a regular place in midfield.

Some have even tipped him to win the club’s player of the year award, which will be announced this week.

“I think he can be really happy with his season, especially as he’s had to play in an unfamiliar position a lot of the time,” Lennon told The Bolton News.

“He’s become a real important part of the first-team squad now and will hopefully get a huge lift from that.

“It wasn’t easy for him to come in at the time and play as a right-back but he’s coped with it really well mentally and physically. I hope he can have a good pre-season and be ready to improve next year.”

One of the sticks often used to beat Lennon’s predecessor, Freedman, was that he did not give the squad’s youngsters enough of an opportunity.

That was certainly the case with Vela, who aside from some long lay-offs with injury was often overlooked by the previous boss.

Vela was farmed out “to the trenches” at Notts County at the tail end of last season and was contemplating another loan move by the time Freedman left the building last year.

The Scot had voiced concerns over Vela’s level of conditioning in training and questioned his attitude as the 21-year-old sat out the first 18 games of the season.

Since being pitched in as a right-back against Brentford back in October, Lennon believes the youngster has never looked back.

“I’ve had no qualms about his professionalism at all, in fact it’d be news to me,” he said. “He looks after himself really well, trains every day, he’s very low maintenance.

“Maybe it’s been a long season for him and that’s where this little injury has come from. But there’s no point with two games to go trying to push him and lose him for six weeks – he might as well have a good rest now and come back fully fit in June.”

Lennon has also reconsidered bringing Darren Pratley back into the first team before the end of the season.

The midfielder suffered a badly torn hamstring in January and has been a big miss for the Whites but the manager is refusing to risk any further injury by throwing him in for the next two games.

“We don’t need to gamble with him,” he said. “It was a really bad tear and after a prognosis of eight weeks it has been a bit longer than that.

“He’s been back out on the grass with the lads doing rehabilitation work. We were hoping we’d see him on the pitch but I’d doubt that now.”