OVER the last few weeks an inconvenient list of absent players has made the prospect of an international break an appealing one for Wanderers.

Three games out, Ian Evatt had been pointing toward the October 21 meeting with Northampton Town as the date when the “cavalry would arrive” and urging fans to try and lift the players who had stayed fit and available.

League wins against Port Vale and Stevenage were hard-earned, and it was not until this weekend’s hugely disappointing show against Carlisle United that the manager’s previous words of caution really made sense.

Evatt has come under fire for suggesting his players were fatigued, six games (including one in the EFL Trophy) since the last international break, and now into the second week of October.

Pre-empting the backlash that was accompany a result which leaves the club sixth in the table and seven points off the automatic promotion spots, he said: “We do our very best not to lose games but all of the fans are not privy to the information and experiences I have got, seeing what it has taken to patch the lads back up with a depleted squad.

“We took six points in the week, which is two points a game, and it still feels like it is not enough. That is the nature of the job we are in and of this football club.”

No team in League One has used fewer players than Bolton Wanderers this season, with Evatt utilising 20 different names over his 11 games so far.

Blackpool, Lincoln City and Northampton Town have used as many, with Charlton Athletic leading the list with 28.

What can be read into that is negligible. Successful sides are invariably settled ones, and the current top two of Portsmouth and Oxford have both used 22 players. Bottom club Cheltenham Town have used 27.

The Bolton News: Bolton Wanderers have used 20 players in League One - eight fewer than Charlton AthleticBolton Wanderers have used 20 players in League One - eight fewer than Charlton Athletic (Image: NQNW)

Wanderers had used just 19 players by this point 12 months ago, when they sat sixth in the table with an identical point total, and a goal difference just one better off.

The main contrast this time around is one of expectation. While it would be unfair, wrong even, to claim it is ‘automatic promotion or nothing’ for Evatt and Bolton this season, anything less would be widely viewed as missing the target.

Concerns had been voiced about the depth of Wanderers’ squad well in advance of the recent injury and suspension problems, which began to kick-in after the previous international break with defeat at Reading.

That same debate has been refuelled by the Carlisle result but while some players have unquestionably been playing with injuries – such as Dion Charles (shoulder) and Kyle Dempsey (back) – there are not many who can accurately say they have been played ‘flat out’.

A total of 24 players have played more than 1,000 minutes in League One this season, 19 of which are outfielders. At Bolton, Nathan Baxter has played the most minutes, totalling the maximum 990, followed by Josh Dacres-Cogley (976), Randell Williams (924) and Dempsey (901).

Only seven players – Josh Sheehan and Dan Nlundulu added on to the list above – have featured in all 11 games so far.

What factors, then, would make Bolton’s players more fatigued than any other?

Playing style could come into it. Wanderers still lead the way in PPDA (passes per defensive action), which is a measure of how effective a team is at pressing out of possession.

With an average of 9.8 PPDA, Evatt’s side is more effective than Charlton (10.6), Reading (11.5) and their most recent conquerors, Carlisle (12.0), which shows that they have put in the hard work, even if results have been more inconsistent than they would have liked.

Wanderers have also fielded strong sides in both of their EFL Trophy games thus far, which has booked them safe passage into the knockout rounds of the competition they won at Wembley last season.

But did making just four changes against Manchester United’s kids come at a cost? While B Teamers like Nelson Khumbeni, Luke Matheson and Sam Inwood got some time off the bench in the second half, no chances were taken by Evatt as he secured victory by a resounding 8-1 score-line.

Eight of those same players started the next game at Vale, where Gethin Jones also began his three-match suspension, ensuring that the trio of Will Forrester, Eoin Toal and Jack Iredale had to play straight through to the break without cover.

By comparison, Portsmouth have played just one game in the EFL Trophy thus far, making 11 changes to the team that faced Fulham’s Under-21s compared with the previous match against Cheltenham Town.

Oxford made nine changes for their 3-1 win at Northampton in early September and 10 for the home defeat against MK Dons a fortnight later.

Or is it just a matter of bad timing? Bolton possess the same points and breadth of squad they had 12 months ago and occupy the same position in the table. They took the EFL Trophy seriously last year and it paid dividends by April.

Evatt can do little about inflated expectation now. But he will know there is added pressure on the Northampton result when his options will theoretically be boosted with the return of Ricardo Santos and Co.