IF Ian Evatt’s brief and rather pointed statement on the fitness of Nathan Baxter and Dion Charles is to be taken a face value – the pair will not be in the squad to face Stevenage.

The Bolton boss did not waste any words when questioned about his top scorer and first-choice goalkeeper, who have been out of commission since the first half of February.

Asked about the positive indications that had come out of the camp over the international break, including video footage of Charles training with Northern Ireland, his reply was startlingly direct.

“They are not available, and that is all I want to say,” he said, with a dozen words that triggered a dozen different online rumours.

Only when the team-sheets are handed in at the Lamex Stadium on Friday will we know if there are mind games at work here. But Evatt’s demeanour late on Wednesday afternoon was not of a manager trying up one-up his counterpart, Steve Evans, it was of a man who was disappointed with the hand he had been dealt.

Another brief mention of Charles came later in the press conference when discussing whether the extra time he got to spend with players over the last fortnight had been as rewarding as he had hoped.

“I have really enjoyed getting back out there with them on the grass,” he said. “We have had a group which has been shrunken by the international call-ups so we haven’t got to do everything we would have liked to have done, but we have certainly put in some good work and the players are in a good place.

“Fortunately for us, Dion aside, the ones who have returned from international duty have done so in good health, which is vitally important given the squad is stretched at the moment.”

Wanderers are without George Johnston – who despite returning to full training is unlikely to be risked this season as he feels his way back from a knee operation, striker Dan Nlundulu also falls into that camp after hamstring surgery.

West Brom loanee Caleb Taylor is making progress and could yet feature in the coming weeks, with Liverpool’s Calvin Ramsay also back available after a minor hamstring issue.

Victor Adeboyejo is still on the recovery route from a hamstring injury and Carlos Mendes Gomes has had surgery on his ruptured Achilles tendon.

With a hefty chunk of his squad missing, Evatt is probably entitled to feel a little crabby, but he does have faith that the players who have stayed fit can still help the club track down second spot if they can reproduce more of the performances they showed before the break, albeit hoping for better outcomes.

“I do feel that even though we have players missing, we are in good form,” he added. “The players are starting to look like themselves again and there have been positives to take in the last few weeks, even though there have been negatives as well.

“If we can continue with that level, and polish a few things again, we will be a difficult team to stop.”