GETHIN Jones was on the pitch for Ian Evatt’s very first game in the dugout – a behind-closed-doors friendly at Atherton Colls watched by a handful of staff, one local journalist and several familiar match stewards.

At the height of Covid, Wanderers couldn’t even tell supporters that the game was taking place, lest crowds gather around the perimeter of the Skuna Stadium.

Fast forward four years and Bolton have already announced a record 15,000 season tickets for next season, are looking forward to another packed house in a play-off semi-final second leg, after which they hope to take another massive contingent to Wembley with a view to securing promotion.

For Jones, the journey has been full of ups and downs. He has now made more than 150 appearances, won promotion from League Two and a Papa Johns Trophy winner’s medal, also gaining international recognition from Australia this season.

But in March 2022, the club also had to provide support for the former Everton defender after the loss of his mother, Karen, who had been diagnosed with MND.

The chance to help Wanderers back into the second tier, a level at which they have not played for the last five years, is a challenge relished by the 28-year-old.

“It would mean the world to me to get Bolton promoted,” he told The Bolton News.

“I went through a phase of not liking football before I went to Carlisle and it was that club who were like a stepping stone for me to get my minutes in, get some game time, and then ultimately meant I could move here.

“As soon as the gaffer asked me to sign for this club, which was in League Two at the time, I’d always known it as a Premier League side.

“To get this club back to the Championship, with everything they have done for me professionally and personally, me and my family, it would mean everything to get them up there.”

Having finished third in the regular season, Jones believes that Wanderers should take some extra confidence into the play-offs that they were, indeed, the ‘best of the rest’ over 46 games.

Though there is a sense of disappointment within the squad that they failed to hit their target of automatic promotion, Jones remains hopeful that it can be quickly cast aside to take on the final three games, regardless of opposition.

“It has been the same story all season, even when we have played the top two, Derby and Portsmouth, we have been confident going into every game,” he said. “We know, if we play our football, we will beat any side.

“We know that if we take our chances, stop the opposition playing their way, then we will be perfectly fine.

“We never really looked into who we’d get or how it might pan out, we know that every team will present their own challenges.”

Jones insists the mood within the squad is upbeat going to Barnsley for the first leg, but he accepts that there are issues to address if Wanderers want to be the side lifting the play-off trophy on May 18 at Wembley.

“There is disappointment because we have said all season, we feel like we are the best team but at the end of the day we have not achieved what we wanted,” he said.

“We are still in a brilliant position and I think in the last few games against good opposition – for example, Portsmouth who have just won the league – I thought we dominated it.

“That is something we have talked about all season, sometimes we haven’t taken our chances. Everything between both boxes has been brilliant but we have to stop the sloppy goals and score the chances that we get.

“The lads are confident. If we play the way we can play, stay confident, then we will have no problems but we have to stay focussed."