THE joy of having playmaker Ali Crawford back in the ranks has been tempered by the need not to rush him too quickly into the team, admits Keith Hill.

For the first time since the end of October Bolton can include the former Doncaster Rovers man on the team sheet.

And while the temptation might be to throw him straight in against MK Dons, Hill is wary of asking too much too soon from a player who has been out of action with a serious knee injury.

Crawford's absence has been felt more acutely than perhaps any other in a long list this season, and though Wanderers have found creative outlets from within - namely Dennis Politic and Ronan Darcy - Hill is hoping the midfielder's return can have a positive effect on his squad.

"It has been difficult, for the psychology of the group losing key players along the journey, and you need people who can help carry a team," he told The Bolton News. "The spine of the team is very important.

“The psychology of the team is not as strong at the moment as you’d expect it to be. I am hoping it is going to change with performances and then we can drive for results.

“Ali Crawford coming back into the team, I can’t push him too hard too early, two or three games a week. I don’t think he can commit to that.

“I will probably have to rotate within the squad over that period we have this week."

Injuries like the one to Crawford have been tough to take for Wanderers and while their fate is not yet mathematically confirmed it is hard to see any way back despite tomorrow's game pitting them against one of their nearest rivals in the table.

Hill refuses to write off the remaining 15 games, however, and wants his players to keep faith.

“You want to see ambition," he said. "You want to see a collective effort, endeavour, determination, and then you want to see footballing intelligence. But the whole recipe for that meal takes a lot of bringing together.

“One win can stimulate it. We have had so many necessary team changes, we haven’t been able to get that continuity.

"We haven't been able to get on the right performance path where we knew that the improving performances would turn into positive results.

“It’s a difficult fix at this moment in time but we have to give everybody a smile back on their face, including the manager."