REGAN Riley has done enough to convince Ian Evatt he belongs on the first team scene at Wanderers.

The 17-year-old midfielder – a boyhood Bolton fan - impressed after replacing the injured Tom White in Tuesday’s night’s EFL defeat at Shrewsbury Town and will now train with the senior squad for the time being.

Riley had featured for Bolton at Tranmere last season aged just 16, becoming the fifth-youngest player in the club’s history.

 He caught Evatt’s eye playing for the youth team in recent weeks and was drafted on to the bench in midweek, his introduction accelerated when White limped off the pitch just before half time.

And though Riley’s error in possession did lead to Shrewsbury’s second goal in the game, his reaction convinced Evatt that he has the mental strength to warrant a closer look.

“The biggest and most pleasing thing of the entire night was Regan Riley, for me,” he told The Bolton News.

“The way he reacted and responded from that mistake told me that mentally he’s strong, he’s got big character and he’s going to be a good player for this football club.

“It would have been easy and quite forgivable for a 17-year-old to crumble after that but he didn’t hide, he kept having the ball in tight areas, showed great self-belief, great confidence.

“Physically he is very good, he is a big lad who covers a lot of ground. He is mobile, so that’s a great attribute to have for a midfielder, but also he was neat and tidy in possession.

“Considering he has not been with us that often, I was really pleased with him.”

Wanderers’ decision to downgrade their academy this summer to category three means they will no longer have an Under-23s team to bridge the gap between youth team and senior football.

Evatt, who also gave a full debut to striker Finlay Lockett and had the untried Matthew Tweedley, Kian Le Fondre and Max Conway on the bench at Shrewsbury, believes there will be more chances for young players to be dropped into the first team environment on a sink or swim basis. 

“We have got to look to develop our own, especially the way the salary cap is going and not being able to buy players,” he said.

“We want to be a club which develops young players and gets a good reputation for that.

“Regan will be with us for the foreseeable future.

“Whether he’s involved on matchdays we’ll play by ear but he has definitely done himself no harm and he’ll be training with us every day so we can give him the best chance of development.”

The Bromley Cross-based midfielder’s own story began at the age of nine when he first signed for Wanderers.

Riley went to Turton School and worked his way through the academy to sign scholarship forms in the summer of 2019.

Now in his second year, Evatt and his coaching staff noticed his game has started to progress – hence the opportunity at Shrewsbury.

“His data for the youth team has been exceptional and ever since I started I’ve paid a keen interest,” the Whites head coach said.

“I noticed his running data is top drawer, Premier League standard.

“The amount of ground he covers on a matchday really is first class.

“In possession and technically it is hard to stand out in a youth team because games are slower, less intense, you don’t get the same angles as you do in first team environments.

“So when he did make the step up for us and players were making those angles for him, pushing him, he has taken to it immediately.

“He looks a better player with better players around him and against better players around him, which is a good sign.”