GEORGE Johnston has paid tribute to the role loanees Marlon Fossey and James Trafford had on Wanderers’ fine post-January run.

The Bolton defender is optimistic about the club’s chances next season after a red-hot run of form spurred by several canny signings in the transfer window.

Fossey and Trafford’s impact was so impressive, Ian Evatt is hoping to have both players available again in late July when Wanderers kick off a new campaign.

And Johnston would happily see them both aboard once more, having seen what they could do in the last few months.

“Marlon brought a lot of energy, it was something we needed on the right side,” he said. “He was massive for us, defensively, and going forward. He was just a huge part of our game.

“Traff behind us, he is a young lad but he made some very important stops. I think we communicated well in games, the whole backline.

“Traff is a young lad, we kind of helped him as much as possible with playing out from the back because he hadn’t been here all season – he didn’t know all the ideas.

“But I think he dealt with it well, and the pressure of big crowds, he dealt with it well for a young lad.”

Johnston played in League One with Wigan Athletic in the second half of the 2020/21 season and noticed a jump in quality this time around.

Ian Evatt has spoken about the growing divide between the division’s ‘have and have nots’ and Johnston agrees there is a clear differentiation in the style of football too.

“There has been a massive improvement in quality,” he said of the standard this year. “I saw the gaffer say that there are kind of two leagues within League One – the top half and the bottom half. It does feel like that when you play against the top teams, it is a massive difference.

“No disrespect to the teams that are in the bottom half but it is such a massive difference to play against tactically, technically and physically some of the top teams - they are like Championship teams.”

Next season’s target is to make a sustained for promotion, something which looked achievable with Wanderers’ performances from mid-January onward.

Johnston – who played more minutes than anyone in the squad in his first season at the UniBol – sees no reason why a top six spot cannot be the target.

“The way we look at this season, it was kind of the blip in November and December which we feel like has ultimately cost us, with the injuries that we had,” he said. “Obviously, if we can stay together and take that into next season then we have a really good chance.”