WANDERERERS plan to bring The Inbetweeners back next season!

‘Football friends’ rejoice – Ian Evatt has confirmed that the club will be fielding a reserve team in 2021/22 to help a cast of young players who have been off our screens for far too long.

Academy graduates - or Inbetweeners, as Evatt has dubbed them - like Ronan Darcy, Adam Senior, Callum King-Harmes, Sonny Graham and Matty Alexander have been unable to play regular football after the dissolution of Wanderers’ Under-23s team last summer.

After stepping up to senior football in League One ahead of schedule to cover for a thin first team squad, the last 12 months have been difficult for the ‘Junior Whites’.

Plans to send a number of younger players out on loan were dented by the uncertainty over non-league football during the pandemic and Covid restrictions have left some of the club’s best up-and-coming players kicking their heels and unable to make progress.

Downgrading the academy to category three was part of a restructure of the department overseen by former head of football operations, Tobias Phoenix, who had claimed at the start of last year that a fast-track system would be created for talented youth team players to reach senior level quicker than if a development squad had remained in place.

The plan has proved a disaster and though some younger players like Darcy, Bright Amoateng and Finlay Lockett have made fleeting appearances for Evatt’s first team, the lack of a regular and structured schedule above Under-18s level has hampered their ability to develop.

Evatt is unsure at present whether the ‘B Team’ will be entered into an established competition or whether they will look to organise a fixture list which mirrors that of the first team.

“We will probably enter a division next season or arrange 20-30 games for throughout the season for the inbetweeners, the ones who have progressed out of the youth team but are not quite ready for the first team,” he told The Bolton News.

“We have got quite a few of those, some very talented players who still need development time.

“Last year those players played a lot in League One and it was just too soon.

“I know fans are probably asking questions about where they have gone. They haven’t gone anywhere, they just need more development time in my opinion, and I’m the manager of the football club.

“For now, we need to get them more games, keep developing them to make sure they have got the physical capabilities to do the job as well as the technical and tactical stuff. Hopefully then they can be ready for the first team in the future.

“They were chucked in far too early last season through need, not necessarily because they had the right. Sometimes that can give people the sense that they deserve more and they want more, which is great, but you have to go out and earn it.

“Day in and day out they have opportunities to impress and improve on all aspects of the game. Added to the games we will get them next season to help with the development we will have some bright young players.”

Evatt says planning for next season’s recruitment is already well underway with the existing academy staff and the newly-installed performance director, Chris Markham.

Laying down a schedule of friendly fixtures could also benefit first team planning, with senior players able to stay match sharp or work their back way towards full fitness after injury – another advantage lost by the removal of the Under-23s.

“We definitely need a development group, and it might give me an opportunity to give some minutes for the more senior ones who need it,” the manager agreed.

“In terms of recruitment, we need three players for every position – a development player, a back-up and a first team. That should be how it is across the board.

“There’s a lot of hard work going on with Chris Markham, Mark Litherland and Dave Gardiner to try and get that sorted for next season as well as trying to win a division this season.

“It is 24-seven at the moment but it will be worth it in the longer term.”

Wanderers take on Colchester United this afternoon looking to avenge a 2-0 defeat at the JobServe Stadium at the start of the campaign.

The game in Essex saw a substitute appearance for striker Finlay Lockett, who has since been turning heads at Under-18s level with 15 assists and 15 goals in the EFL Youth Alliance League.

Lockett had been Bolton’s second-youngest debutant the previous season when he came off the bench against Coventry City in a memorable 0-0 draw at the UniBol, as part of the youngest team ever assembled by the club.

Evatt has monitored his progress this season and believes he will benefit from next season’s plans for an extra level of football between the Under-18s and the senior set-up.

“He is still progressing. Mark Litherland and Dave Gardiner are doing a fantastic job with him,” he said.

“His talent is without question, he is a very talented kid. He just needs to get used to the other side of the game, the physical demands, especially first team level.

“In the youth team you can get away with not doing the out-of-possession stuff as much but when he comes up with us to senior level it is a completely different ball game. You have to give it equal importance to the in-possession work.

“He is picking that up all the time, getting used to those messages, getting himself fit enough to do that role.

“He is a talented young man and we’re lucky to have him.”