KEITH Hill has pledged to push his players hard in order to get them up to speed.

The Wanderers boss made just two changes to the team which faced Rochdale in the Trophy on Tuesday night after a 1-0 defeat at Portsmouth a few days earlier.

He also made just one substitution at Spotland before his side lost 5-3 in the penalty shootout to leave themselves needing victory against Manchester City’s Under-21s in the final group game on October 29 to progress to the next round.

The urge to protect his players was surpassed by Hill’s desire to improve their stamina after a series of lacklustre second-half performances.

“I can’t do a pre-season,” he said. “I have to do live games and that means stressing these players.

“I can’t keep making three substitutions and making us weaker or protecting a clean sheet.

“I need Will Buckley to start running into unbelievable fatigue and coming out of it the other side, the same with Josh, the same with Thibaud.

“Sonny Graham was superb tonight. So was Liam Bridcutt at centre-half. There are massive positives but I want the players to be fit.”

After Aaron Wilbraham had cancelled out Ali Crawford’s outstanding first-half free kick the game was settled by a shootout. Adam Chicksen missed the crucial spot kick but Hill was more than content with the physical workout his players got on the night.

“There’s no disappointment for me, it was a game we used as a training exercise,” he told The Bolton News.

“After Saturday’s game and I am looking at some of my players and they are not 90-minute fit and see them trying to save energy in the tank, they are not doing anything. We became like mannequins in the second half at Portsmouth.

“I look at that group of players as I am evaluating things, Portsmouth and the season I have had so far and I am thinking ‘I have got to use Tuesday to get them working.’ “I have got to fatigue players, I have to leave them on the pitch. I can’t keep taking Thibaud (Verlinden) off the pitch because he’s tired. If we are going to lose a game then I need to find out more about these players when they are fatigued.

“I haven’t got a squad of players where I have got like-for-like replacements, someone I can tell to go and run the left-back or the right-back into the ground. I think Rochdale knew they needed to make the game quicker if they could and some of the tactical changes, Tavares came out to the left to go up against Josh (Emmanuel), who needs to stay on the pitch to get better and fitter. He can only do that by staying on the pitch. I can’t protect him more than I am doing. He’s going to have to suffer in pain as he grows, physically.”