IAN Evatt has warned his players not to let their promotion ambition become a destructive force this season.

The Bolton boss has made little secret of his own top two target – and believes he is close to assembling a squad capable of returning to the Championship for the first time since 2019.

Many onlookers fancy Wanderers’ chances too but Evatt is acutely aware that his players will be marked men from the moment they kick-off against Lincoln City on Saturday.

“I’m expecting it to be extremely difficult and challenging,” he said. “On paper, everyone will say it looks a little bit easier than last year but paper and football don’t go together!

“It has a funny way of surprising people. If it was as easy as the teams who spend the most money and are expected to win things always won things every season, we would be in a pretty boring game.

“There is a huge difference between ambition and entitlement and it is really important we keep our feet on the ground and have huge ambition but not feel like we are entitled to anything.”

Whereas Wanderers’ reputation in the lower leagues was once an obstacle for Evatt in his early managerial career with the club, he feels his players are now more comfortable having a ‘target on their back’ as promotion challengers.

“We already had a reputation of being a fantastic football club with wonderful facilities,” he said. “But I think the way we play, people now show us a lot of respect on the pitch. That can be challenging.

“I remember when I first came here in the middle of the pandemic when there were no supporters in the stadium.

“It used to drive me crazy that away teams would be out there recording with their phones and looking around.

“They would raise their games accordingly to play at Bolton in our stadium. It always has been a challenge but it is one we will embrace and keep striving to rise above.”

Pressure to get promotion has been ramped up, not only by the club’s own internal messaging but also their increased spending power this summer.

Investment from the board alongside a massive £4.5million raised by a public bond scheme has propelled Bolton into a different bracket.

Evatt hopes to strike the right balance in the coming months and lead from the front.

“There is a huge difference between ambition and entitlement,” he said. “I think it is important that we stay on the right side of the line with the ambition.

“We all want to achieve promotion this year but it is not a given.

“There are 23 other teams in our division who have the same aspirations. We have to be a little bit humble about it and know that it isn’t our given right, regardless of the history of this football club.

“We are highly ambitious and we all know what we want to achieve, but we are not entitled to do so. It is important that we all stay on the right marker – we are ambitious but not entitled.”