THE outcome of the game already decided, Gillingham’s Max Ehmer turned a dangerous ball back into the box which bounced off debutant Jordan Boon and into the back of his own net to make it 5-0.

The youngster turned away in disgust, hands on hips for a brief moment, and trudged back to his position knowing there was still 15 minutes of this torture to go.

Then came a noise which has become so familiar. From the joyous cheers of the home fans emerged a louder, prouder chant of defiance from 750 away fans perched high in the uncovered stand on the opposite end of the pitch.

Wanderers ‘til I die, Wanderers ‘til I die”.

The noise was so pronounced that focus in the directors’ box, where sat for the first time were the Football Ventures consortium, was diverted away from the scoreboard or Boon’s unfortunate break.

This was a fanbase happy to see their team playing football and proud of the young players who had stepped up in the club’s hour of need.

The group had already claimed a League One point against Coventry City against the odds, ensuring when we look back at this tumultuous time in Bolton Wanderers’ history in years to come, that result will stand out above all others.

Fans appreciated the size of the task at hand, and that pride manifested itself further on Tuesday night. The Leasing.Com Trophy seldom attracts crowds in the group stages yet folk queued around the block in what was the first time to celebrate Bolton’s survival on home turf.

We knew the team would comprise entirely of youngsters again. And the record books will show it with an average age of just 19 it was the most inexperienced ever to represent the club. But those young men have come to embody what the fans are feeling, a beacon of hope when it was in short supply.

They so nearly got a result their effort deserved against a burly Bradford but there was such nobility in defeat, via a penalty shootout.

Boon had cast off any disappointment to have a fine game at the back, Dennis Politic had fans on the edge of their seat with a set of Okocha-like skills, Sonny Graham rattled around midfield like a senior professional and 17-year-old keeper Matt Alexander produced moments that bode so well for his future.

With new management team Keith Hill and David Flitcroft watching, absorbing the positivity from 9,000-plus supporters, it may well have been a defining night in the rebirth of Bolton Wanderers.

Football fans are often accused of being over-demanding, or hyper-critical, yet for the last few months this support have shown themselves to be entirely understanding of the club’s position and their role in helping it move on from the fractious and confrontational days of Ken Anderson.

Now sets in the reality. Nine new players were signed on transfer deadline day to aid what Hill believes is still an achievable fight against relegation. The bookmakers would tend to agree – and the club’s odds of League Two football next season have dropped significantly in the last few days.

But where does this leave the so-called Junior Whites? Will those unfamiliar names and faces which were suddenly forced to the fore get their chance again?

Jimmy Phillips thinks so. The academy boss also stepped into the breach after the resignation of Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin and believes the brief spell in the spotlight will have whet the young players’ appetites for more.

Some time working with David Lee in the Under-23s – a level which has been utterly decimated because of first team commitments – could beckon, but Phillips feels there will be scope for some of the players to stake their claim.

“They have worked hard to get so far, you have to remember that,” he told The Bolton News. “But also they have to appreciate there’s a lot of hard work ahead of them to become senior professionals and be part of the first team squad. It won’t just happen.

“The manager said in his first interview that he wants the young players to be a part of his squad and he’s not brought senior players in to replace them. It’s up to them to continue working on their game and force their way into his plans.

“And I think this year, with only having 23 professionals in the squad and with the league and cup programme being as packed as it is, I think a lot of the team will force their way into the development squad and then go from there.

“We have only got two or three third-year scholars and anyone who’s on a professional contract will surely be around the manager’s thoughts.

“It is going to be a young team at development stage and a young Under-18s team this season. We will probably force a number of the Under-16s into the higher age group and it’s good experience for them. As long as they learn from it, that’s the key to moving forward.”

The academy has become more of a focal point for Wanderers in the last four or five years, as Josh Vela, Zach Clough, Rob Holding, Luca Connell and Co made the most of their opportunities.

Much is thought of defender Harry Brockbank – who captained the club for the second time on Tuesday night – and the technically-astute Ronan Darcy, both of whom have been with the club for more than a decade.

Winger Politic also has the X factor which might just ensure he remains on the first team rota for some time to come.

Those who watched Nick Spooner and Gavin McCann’s Under-18s or Lee’s 23s in the last few seasons will know the Romania-born midfielder is capable of the extraordinary – but, says Phillips, it has been a willingness to concentrate on the more mundane aspects of the game which has helped him make big strides since the summer.

“Dennis is a player who works hard on his game,” he said. “After training he’s doing extra, going into the gym so that he’s far stronger than he was two or three years ago.

“He is a player who has always had great talent and great ability and now he’s starting to put his game together.

“If he’s not scoring goals then he’s creating goals. He was at the forefront of everything going forward.”

Hill and Flitcroft have developed a reputation for bringing through young players – among them ex-Wanderers loanee Craig Dawson and England and Manchester City star John Stones.

That fact is not lost on Phillips, who is well aware that new owners are also looking towards the club’s youth system to continue producing the goods.

“I think it’s even more exciting for the young players because they know if they continue to improve they’ll get an opportunity,” he said.

“I think it’s also exciting for the new owners because they have been impressed with what they have seen so far and they want them to be a part of the future of the club, as it should be.

“The fact we have a manager and assistant who have a reputation of blooding players over their careers is hopefully great news all around.”

Hill has hinted he could take some of the young players out of the firing line in the short term before looking to get them back into the first team picture at the right time.

"It's time for them to be rewarded by the recruitment that we have done for support,” he said.

"I'm a big advocate of bringing young players through, I love developing players, but I need to be able to protect young players. They are at the stage now that they need protection and that means rest, recovery and a pat on the back.

"Now let's learn from the five games played and let's put a plan in process to develop them individually instead of trying to develop a team of 18-year-olds together. That is what you have to do."

“It is a big assessment, a mental eventuation for those players, but we do not want to mentally ruin that group because they are special."

The next time Demarilo Brown-Sterling, Jay Fitzmartin, Joe White, Callum King-Harmes, Yoan Zouma, Finlay Lockett, Regan Riley, Liam Edwards or Adam Senior take to the pitch in a Wanderers shirt, the pressure may be less intense and the crowd numbers lower. But their effort will be remembered.

And if those Junior Whites progress in the way Hill, Phillips and Co hope, it might not be long before those names are the talk of the town once again.