AFTER spending 12 months as Wanderers’ defensive vanguard in midfield, MJ Williams is now having to familiarise himself with a completely different role.

The former Liverpool ball-winner proved a transformative force when he signed from Blackpool last January, helping Ian Evatt’s side make a late dart for promotion.

His return to League One has not been a straightforward one, however, with a dislocated shoulder interrupting a fine start to the season, followed by a heavy bout of Covid, which affected his form into the New Year.

Despite those issues, Williams has spent more time on the pitch than anyone, with the exception of captain Ricardo Santos, an achievement made all the more impressive by the fact he also had to re-learn his position after a mid-January formation switch.

The move to 3-4-1-2 added more midfield competition in the form of Kyle Dempsey and Aaron Morley, and different responsibilities for a player who had primarily been used to break up opponent attacks in his first year.

Speaking to The Bolton News about the shift in role, Williams feels he is only now returning to his best shape.

“When I came back from my shoulder I got Covid, which was really tough,” he explained. “I was out for about six or seven weeks but I feel like I am back to full fitness now and feeling much better.

“I’m enjoying playing with Az (Aaron Morley), he has been brilliant. We changed the formation and I wasn’t in the side at first but you’ve just got to keep working hard.

“I have had to learn. I was probably playing a bit deeper at the start of the season but now I am finding myself in pockets of space that I haven’t really been in. Running into the box and stuff, I didn’t know I had it in me.

“The gaffer believes in me and it is how he wants to play. I’ll take on board whatever I need to do to play in the team. It’s something different but I have enjoyed it.”

Evatt has continued to turn to Williams despite adding different options in the winter window, with the Merseysider finding himself out of the starting line-up just once – against Wimbledon – since returning from illness.

The 26-year-old freely admits, however, that he is still acclimatising to a more forward-thinking midfield position in a team which is very much slanted towards attack.

“We have got a lot of attacking players and I probably haven’t got as much defending to do as when I was in there defending myself,” he said. “We look more solid as a team, though.

“I am finding myself in different positions but I am learning it, enjoying it, and I think it is good to get as many attacking players on the pitch as possible because we do create a lot of chances.

“I am a defensive midfielder and sometimes when we are attacking my mind is on holding my position but the gaffer has given me freedom to bomb on when I need to, Aaron Morley has been the same.”