SONNY Graham has already given Keith Hill reason to believe he could take the first team plunge on a regular basis.

With Liam Bridcutt ruled out until December because of a broken collarbone Wanderers will be forced to reshape their midfield, starting with this weekend’s visit of Rochdale.

Graham has made seven senior appearances this season but it was the 17-year-old’s performance in the Trophy – coincidentally against Saturday’s opponents Dale – that left the Bolton boss confident he could deputise for the injured captain, if called upon.

“The plan from Portsmouth was to play Sonny with as many senior players as we could against Rochdale to see whether he could elevate his performance,” Hill explained. “That way I knew that if something happened to one of my midfield players, could be the next one in line? Or did I have to look at a different option?

“That was the method. Rochdale was just a fitness exercise. It has given me so much success in the past to utilise that competition in that way.

“I said to Sonny ‘here’s your chance to play alongside Ali Crawford and Jason Lowe, with Liam Bridcutt playing centre-half in case anything happened to Jack Hobbs, and I knew Liam could play there.

“We used that to see how close Sonny was to playing in the league, so when Liam got injured on Monday night I was already a step in front. It wasn’t a risk, it wasn’t a gamble, I can put my trust in Sonny.”

Graham started on the bench in last night’s Under-23s home game against Crewe Alexandra alongside a handful of other youngsters pushing for first team inclusion.

Former Derby County midfielder Timi Elsnik featured as a trialist and there was a welcome return for both Josh Earl and Connor Hall after injury.

Hill wants to place demands on the younger players to command a spot in the first team squad, rather than be called upon to fill gaps.

“It’s the players’ responsibility to get into the training ground and use the coaches who are here bright and early every morning to improve,” he said. “Get on that pitch and be the next one.

“Sonny has still got to play, train and develop, become more robust. And it’s that sort of plan I have for Sonny, for (Yoan) Zouma, for Adam Senior – we will improve them as players.”