NOWHERE this weekend will you get a fixture which evokes a more traditional footballing image than Bolton v Preston, the Trotters taking on the Lillywhites.

With 134 years of Lancashire rivalry between them, the homes of two founder members of the Football League are separated by barely 20 miles on the map.

Rich in history, the grand old stadium at Deepdale claims to have housed professional football longer than any other. This season it has played host to one of the Championship’s most youthful sides – albeit one still playing catch-up after a dreadful start.

In stark comparison, the University of Bolton Stadium’s modern arches, little more than two decades old, have towered over the division’s elder statesmen.

Wanderers are the only club in the second tier to have named a side with an average age of more than 30 years and have done so on five separate occasions. The recent emergence of Luca Connell and Joe Pritchard, alongside the loan signing of Everton’s Callum Connolly, has helped to bring down the mean – but it has not completely stifled concern among supporters that short-termism in recruitment could cost down the line.

When Phil Parkinson led Bolton back into the Championship in 2017 he pointed towards Preston’s example as one he wanted to follow. Investment in a younger squad and the ability to trade on seemed the perfect way forward.

Eighteen months on and the blueprint has not exactly been followed to the letter. Unable to make cash signings for the most part, Parkinson has also struggled to compete at the younger end of the free transfer market.

It is perhaps unfair to say there has been no investment in youth – at 24, Remi Matthews is still fresh-faced for a goalkeeper and the midfield triumvirate of Connell, Connolly and Pritchard could soon be joined by another Evertonian loanee in Joe Williams, who is making progress from a thigh injury.

But there is still plenty to admire in the way tomorrow’s opponents have gone about their business in recent years.

Preston’s recruitment model has largely centred around youth since the arrival of Alex Neil in 2017. During the summer they added signings of Jayden Stockley, Ryan Ledson, Andrew Hughes, Jordan Storey, Conor Ripley and Brad Potts, balanced out by the £4million sale of Gregg Cunningham to Cardiff City. The same had been done a year earlier when Jordan Hughill was sold to West Ham for £10.5m.

Inexperience may well have played a part as North End failed to build on an opening day win against QPR and went another 10 games without victory. They have since steadied the ship, and have been aided by the return to fitness of a few key men. Recent form has prompted whispers of a late dash towards the top six.

Wanderers face a difficult February and may look at tomorrow’s game as their best opportunity to claim home points before Millwall’s visit on March 9.

It is a full 18 years since they last beat Preston and fans will need little reminder of a day at the Millennium Stadium where Bibi Gardner flew, Gudni Bergsson held the trophy aloft and Nat Lofthouse looked on with pride as the Premier League era began.

Connell – the first millennial to play for Wanderers’ first team - was just a few months old when Sam Allardyce’s claimed promotion. Even after just a few appearances in the first team there is a degree of expectation on his shoulders as the team look for some inspiration from the middle of the park.

On the day Pritchard was born, Bolton were busy beating Grimsby Town 6-1 in their final year at Burnden Park. The 22-year-old midfielder may turn out of be a real success story for Wanderers’ recruiters, who picked him up for nothing last summer on his release from Tottenham.

Whether Parkinson can blend the new-found influx of youth with his established players and create something akin to last season’s successful fight against the drop remains to be seen.

Last May, Bolton’s last-day saviour against Nottingham Forest was 38-year-old striker Aaron Wilbraham and should another thirtysomething step up to be a match-winner tomorrow afternoon, or at the City Ground in May, you will find few folk complaining.