IAN Evatt reckons Wanderers will have to be strong in January to ward off interest in key players and preserve their promotion chase.

Two months remain before the transfer window reopens but the Bolton boss already senses that the club’s biggest challenge in the second half of the season will be to hold on to in-form talents like Dion Charles, Josh Sheehan, George Thomason and Eoin Toal.

As the club prepared for today’s FA Cup first round meeting with non-league Solihull Moors, Evatt gave his thoughts on January, and the prospect of strengthening his squad for the second half of the campaign.

“We’ll always look to improve, that’s no secret, but I feel like the hardest work we are going to have to do in January is fend off the vultures for some of our key players,” he told The Bolton News.

“I do feel like we are going to have to show strength and courage, and it is great credit to our development but we know our ambition this season and to achieve it we will have to keep hold of our best assets, simple as.

“In terms of strengthening, if something becomes available that we think will improve our squad then we will look to do it. If we don’t, we won’t.

“I think this is a really strong squad of players when they are all fit and available, I think we have seen that in the last few wins and performances, and there are others to come back as well.

“I still think there is a lot of progress to be made with this group too. We can be more consistent and our performance levels progressed through last week.

“We started against Northampton with a great first half, faded a bit second half, improved at Wycombe, and then against Charlton I thought we saw another improvement. There is more to come and when we start doing that for longer, not just halves of games, then we will be a handful for most teams.”

Top scorer Charles has been watched by a number of Championship sides, and his goalscoring form this season has kept him in the spotlight. Likewise, Sheehan and Toal’s breakthrough at international level, and Thomason’s rise to first team prominence, has also attracted admiring gazes from the division above.

Evatt feels, however, that Thomason’s decision to turn down a move to Bristol City in August sums up the general focus on promotion.

“In terms of squad value, we have a very good one,” he said.

“But we are not in any need to do anything, we will always make the best decision for Bolton Wanderers.

“We know, though, that this season in particular it is vital that we keep our assets with us and enable us to progress.

“To be honest, I think the players are in the same mindset. George Thomason started it off with his decision in the summer.

“People speak about me and my future, going to work in the Championship and beyond, I look at it and see this football club as where I can do that. This club can take me exactly where I want to go, and I think the players see it the same way.

“This is a huge club and there is a long way left in the journey. We have to scrap tooth and nail to make sure that progress continues, every single day.”

Evatt has hammered home the message to his players this week that attitude – as much as footballing ability – will be the key ingredient of a promotion campaign.

And the manager is prepared to be ruthless with those players who find themselves left behind by a squad intent on claiming a top two spot.

He said: “It s about having that something inside of you that wants to make you improve. I said to the players this week that within me, I have a ferocious desire to win, to be better, and I am not going to back off.

“Every day is an opportunity to improve and we have to look at everything that way – on the grass or in the gym at Lostock, on the pitch on a matchday, you have to keep fighting to get better.

“I, as manager, will never, ever let up. That is how it has to be, and the promise I can give to the supporters that my team will give absolutely everything to make things happen for this club.

“It starts with the FA Cup.”