TWO of Ian Evatt’s originals return to contention this weekend in time to face Blackpool, both looking to make themselves indispensable once again.

Ricardo Santos and George Thomason have between them racked up 266 games under the Bolton boss and, along with Gethin Jones, are the only players to have featured in each of his four seasons to date.

It has been five league games since Wanderers have been able to bank on the power and pace of their captain, Santos, who suffered a calf tear on his last visit to Bloomfield Road in the Bristol Street Motors Trophy last month.

Thomason’s three-game absence was rather more self-inflicted. Sent off for what the Football Association deemed a reckless challenge on Northampton’s Aaron McGowan on February 10, the young midfielder’s chequered disciplinary record has been the talk of the town ever since.

Both players fall into the trusted lieutenant bracket for Evatt, who has never been shy of voicing his confidence in their talent or their ability to play at a higher level of football.

But with his side bristling with confidence following the midweek win at Cambridge United, which brought Bolton back level on points with second-placed Derby County, the manager now faces a big choice on how best to integrate his mainstays once more.

Santos has been the rock at the heart of the Whites defence for three-and-a-half seasons now, though results without him over the last few years have not been as bad as you might think.

Wanderers actually have a slightly better win per centage (56.25 compared with 51.81) when Santos does NOT start, although few who have watched the evolution of this team over the last few years would dispute his importance to the cause.

Santos stayed at home on Tuesday to train at Lostock, as Evatt and his coaching staff looked to minimise the risk of re-injury if they decide on putting him back in at Blackpool from the start, not to mention the rustiness that can sometimes affect defenders after a lay-off.

Thomason’s reintroduction to the side may not be as straightforward. This has, without question, been the 23-year-old’s most successful year in senior football and for the majority of the campaign he has been considered first choice in central midfield.

A total of 15 yellow cards have meant suspensions, however, and the latest three-game stint came at a time when Bolton had few bodies to spare. The reaction to Thomason’s red card was markedly different from inside the camp, where an appeal was launched to the FA’s disciplinary committee, compared to the external view of many fans that the youngster needed to cool his jets somewhat.

Thomason’s air of devilment has helped Wanderers at times this season. Aside from Santos and fellow centre-back Will Forrester, he has won back more possession than anyone else in the Bolton squad. His work in possession, particularly key passes which lead to a direct shooting opportunity, also shines through, comparing favourably with main playmakers Josh Sheehan, Josh Dacres-Cogley and Randell Williams.

The former Blackpool trainee has also added some goals to his game this year, scoring three times, including the winner against his former club at the Toughsheet back in November.

All that said, there remain some who are not entirely convinced, and the disciplinary issues have supplied fuel to that narrative, not to mention the awkward timing of his current suspension.

Will Evatt choose to pitch Thomason straight into the heat of a local derby? Will that physicality be an asset? And how will the midfielder handle himself when all eyes will be on his every challenge?

Once termed “un-droppable” by his manager, Thomason probably has some work to do to get himself back into that sort of exalted position, at least in the eyes of some of the Bolton supporters.

Wanderers do, at least, have options. Paris Maghoma has bagged goals in his last two games and shown some flashes of his best form, Kyle Dempsey also looks back to his best levels, while Josh Sheehan’s stats for the Cambridge game underline the outstanding season he has been having thus far.

Aaron Morley was used sparingly at the Abbey Stadium and has always shown himself to be a man for the big occasion, while Carlos Mendes Gomes could also drop deeper if – as expected – Evatt rotates his front men once again to include Aaron Collins or Victor Adeboyejo.

They are headaches that Evatt will welcome, considering how slender his squad has looked at times over the last month. Perhaps now the club’s decision to splash out money in the January window for a calculated “push over the line” can start to bear fruit?