EVEN Gavin McCann doesn’t quite know how his young charges will react when the spotlight shines on them in the FA Youth Cup tomorrow night.

Newcastle United come to the University of Bolton Stadium as slight favourites against a Bolton side which has undergone significant changes from the one which finished runners-up in the league last season.

With several Under-23s out on loan to test their mettle in the senior game, the majority of Nicky Spooner’s successful side were moved wholesale to work with David Lee in the development squad, leaving McCann’s Under-16s to fill the gap.

Gelling the new squad has been a challenge – but the former Wanderers midfielder, who will forever be remembered by fans as the slayer of Red Star Belgrade, isn’t complaining.

“That’s the whole point, isn’t it?” he told The Bolton News.

“We need to get lads from ours into the Under-23s into the first team.

“Last year we finished second in the league but we didn’t have any lads in the first team. I’d have traded that for mid-table if one of the boys could have pushed on to that level.

“We need to get the lads through, it’s what we’re here for really.

“This year we have players like Dennis Politic, who has gone out on loan, so there’s progression. We’re pleased he’s got that chance.

“We want to win every game, we want to beat Newcastle, but if by the end of the season a couple of lads have made their debut then I’d say that’s not bad.”

Spooner, who guided the Under-18s into the play-offs last season, is also happy to play the long-game with his current squad in the hope some can graduate to first team level.

“We’ve played a lot of schoolboys this season,” he said. “A few of the Under-23s have gone out on loan and a few of our boys have gone up early. As Gav said, it would be great to win the game against Newcastle and it will be competitive but this year is probably more about development.

“On Saturday we had seven Under-16s playing, so results have been up and down. You’d probably expect that.

“People won’t necessarily remember us if we win the Under-18s league but they would if one of our lads goes up and plays first team.”

Last year Wanderers lost out to Middlesbrough at this stage, playing in front of several hundred fans at the Riverside Stadium in a game which was also broadcast live on the internet.

Dennis Politic – now on loan with Conference high-flyers Salford City alongside Harry Brockbank – was the star of the show that night and McCann hopes one of this year’s crop can have a similar impact.

“Last season against Middlesbrough he was the best player on the pitch,” he said. “I hope someone steps up in the same way.

“I haven’t been to watch him in person since he went to Salford but we’ve had some good reports, he scored at the weekend, and he seems to be doing well.

“It’s always interesting to see how the lads start, how they adjust to it. The pitch is pretty much the same size, it’s just the stadium around it.”

That talented and free-scoring side now makes up the backbone of the Under-23s, leaving Spooner and McCann to start all over again.

“There’s not necessarily a pressure but we’re here to nurture the talent we have got,” he said. “We know the job is to improve the players and make sure we pass them on down the line.

“Dennis has gone out to learn, Harry Brockbank has gone out to learn, even young Matty Barnes has gone to Bamber Bridge, which will do him good.

“We’re trying to get the boys in a real environment. At the academy they are in an environment where they all get even minutes and it’s about development but they do get to a stage where they need to sink or swim.”