WANDERERS have experienced their fair share of behind-the-scenes difficulties in pre-season but the hardship has been masked by the depth of squad assembled by Ian Evatt and his backroom team.

Covid has affected several key players, leaving some disparity in the ranks as they prepare for this weekend’s season opener against MK Dons.

Based purely on the most pre-season minutes played this summer, the Bolton starting line-up on Saturday would include the likes of Liam Gordon, George Thomason and Nathan Delfouneso.

The injured Liam Edwards and Xavier Amaechi aside, Evatt was able to welcome his whole squad back to the training ground this week to assess who is in shape to start this weekend, and who needs more time.

In Olympic season, we decided to run our rule over the pre-season performances and who could be in line for the first XI of the season.

Based on how they fared, we have awarded a gold, silver or bronze medal for everyone who has played 170 minutes or more.

Joel Dixon (minutes – 405).

Matt Gilks’ illness has given the former Barrow man a real shot at claiming the number one spot for the opening weeks of the season. Shown both sides of his game in the friendlies but Bolton fans will be hoping for more stunning saves like the one he pulled off in the final moments at Holker Street.

Medal – Bronze.

George Thomason – 382.

Last season’s breakout star, Thomason has looked fresh on his return to action, scoring at Atherton Colls. In a midfield packed with options, the youngster is making a good case for himself once again.

Medal – Silver.

MJ Williams – 366.

Arguably the first name on the team-sheet these days and the defensive lynchpin which gives this attacking machine licence to thrive. Managed to stay available and looking just as sharp as he ended last season in League Two.

Medal – Gold.

Gethin Jones – 365.

A model of consistency last season but set himself a challenge to raise his game further after promotion and looked especially sharp against the two Championship clubs, Preston and Blackburn. Looks to have the edge on Brockbank for the right-back berth, for now.

Medal – Gold.

Dapo Afolayan – 346.

If Ian Evatt can get more goals out of the former West Ham man, and more performances like the one that tormented Blackburn, then he will be the man to watch this season. It is all about consistency and intensity now for the winger.

Medal – Silver.

Alex Baptiste – 346.

Still ticking at 35 and looking in good form too. Only played once alongside Ricardo Santos in the friendlies but his partnership with George Johnston caught the eye and might well be the one Evatt goes for against MK Dons.

Medal – Gold.

Liam Gordon – 337.

The surprise package of the summer? Looked miles off last season but has returned via a loan spell at his former club Dagenham and Redbridge as a different prospect. Evatt is now looking at him in a different light, too.

Medal – Gold.

Amadou Bakayoko – 333.

With Eoin Doyle enduring a horrible pre-season, Bakayoko has been the man Bolton have turned to up front. Works hard and got an early goal to steady his new club nerves, now the big man has to take the fight to League One.

Medal – Silver.

Josh Sheehan – 322.

Asked to play a different role than the one he filled at Newport County last season, the Wales international gradually became more influential as the summer went on. Takes up intelligent positions and can seemingly spray passes anywhere he likes.

Medal – Gold.

Andrew Tutte –318.

Evatt knows he can rely on the wily Tutte, even if it means throwing him in at centre-half, as he did on a couple of occasions. While that experiment is unlikely to catch on in League One, you can certainly expect to see him fill in gaps.

Medal – Bronze.

Declan John – 284.

Encouraging to see his link-up with Afolayan has not missed a beat. The Welshman missed the Preston game but came back with a good 68 minutes last weekend and looks to be a certain starter against MK.

Medal – Silver.

Adam Senior – 284.

Looks a more mature defender after the summer and is surely a contender to go and get first team experience on loan during the early months of the campaign. Does have the back-up of reserve team football this time around and appears in good nick.

Medal – Bronze.

Harry Brockbank – 281.

Played as much as a centre-half as he has a right-back, but Brockbank’s versatility is what makes him such an important player for Wanderers. Got a full 90 against Barrow and featured in every friendly game.

Medal – Silver.

Ronan Darcy – 277.

At the end of last season it was hard to see Darcy getting a look-in but he has returned this summer in good form and is clearly training well enough to get back in Evatt’s plans. Played some part in every game and is much closer than he was three months ago.

Medal – Silver.

Nathan Delfouneso – 263.

Missed the last two friendlies, which was a blow as he had returned looking lean, mean and in very decent form.

Medal – Bronze.

Antoni Sarcevic – 258.

Although he picked up that early hamstring problem at Longridge, the club captain has shown no lasting effects and has been available for the rest of pre-season. His words off the pitch have been just as important.

Medal – Silver.

Kieran Lee – 250.

Only missed two games – both against Championship opposition – but definitely a sense that he is still feeling his way back to fitness after time away from the training ground. Wanderers will definitely need his experience.

Medal – Bronze.

Brandon Comley - 204.

Filled in well enough as a right-back at Chorley and Chester but does not look any closer to regular first team football with the Whites. A move elsewhere surely beckons?

Medal - Bronze.

Ricardo Santos – 203.

Up to the Preston game, things seemed to be going swimmingly for last season’s player of the year. But a foot injury coupled with a Covid-related absence have left him short on minutes going into the opening weekend of the season.

Medal – Bronze.

Lloyd Isgrove – 202.

Isgrove dropped out of the reckoning for three games but returned with a solid 67 minutes on Saturday to stake a claim to start on the right side of the attack against MK. With Amaechi out injured, imperative that the winger stays fit.

Medal – Bronze.

George Johnston – 196.

Followed a similar path to Isgrove, scoring on his return to the team against Rovers. Looked rock solid that afternoon and also looks capable of being a threat in the opposition penalty box at set pieces, which is a nice bonus.

Medal – Silver.

Ali Crawford - 186

Has shown a couple of little flashes which reminded you why he was such an integral figure at Wanderers at one stage. But perhaps failed to make a real statement in games like Chester to force his way in.

Medal - Bronze.

Jay Fitzmartin - 180

In a summer where the young winger signed his first professional contract he got two full games at Chorley and Chester to get a real taste of senior football. One to watch this season, for sure.

Medal - Bronze

Xavier Amaechi – 171.

We clearly hadn’t seen the best of the Hamburg wide man before he limped off against Preston, which is a huge shame. One can only hope he gets himself back in contention well before January, when his loan is due to expire.

Medal – Bronze.


Also featured: Dennis Politic – 168, Luke Hutchinson – 135, Matt Gilks - 123, Max Conway – 114, Will Aimson – 112, Matthew Alexander – 90, Ryan Colvin - 88, Eoin Doyle – 68, Matthew Tweedley – 52, Mitchell Henry – 42, Wes Frimpong – 16, Arran Pettifer – 11, Max Wilcox - 10, Kian Le Fondre – 9, Joel Burgess – 6, Lamine Toure - 2.