EXPERIENCE won the day in League One last season, but will it be a commodity that Wanderers covet in their recruitment search this summer?

Promoted clubs Portsmouth, Derby County and Oxford United took very different routes to success but their respective squads all had something in common.

The three clubs all boasted considerable know-how at League One level, each group having amassed a large number of games in the third tier. And in Derby’s case, they also had the division’s oldest starting line-up, averaging 28 years.

But to what extent is experience important, and it is a matter of age, or the number of matches and the level at which they have been played which is the vital factor?

There can be no doubt at Bolton Wanderers that the release of strikers Cameron Jerome and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson means the squad will go forward without two of its most well-travelled representatives.

By the end of last season, the pair accounted for just over 20 per cent of total league games played by the entire squad. And if you were to also factor in Welsh defender Declan John, who has been on loan at Salford City and will also be a free agent, that total rises to 24.4 per cent.

Of the remaining players and with 349 league games to his name, Kyle Dempsey is currently well out in front ahead of his next most-experienced team-mates Ricardo Santos (267), Josh Sheehan (250) and Gethin Jones (221).

Taking Jerome, Bodvarsson and John out of the equation also removes a massive 78.8 per cent of the 951 appearances made at either Premier League or Championship level and leaves a squad which has played precious little football at a higher level.

Of those players remaining, Dan Nlundulu played 13 top-flight games at Southampton alongside a single 90 minutes played by Joel Coleman at Huddersfield Town.

The Bolton News: The top six from last season's League One, and the make-up of the league experience within each squadThe top six from last season's League One, and the make-up of the league experience within each squad (Image: NQNW)

There are 188 appearances in the Championship spread across the squad, the majority of which belong to Victor Adeboyejo (58) from his time at Barnsley.

Nathan Baxter (28), Josh Dacres-Cogley (23), Kyle Dempsey (21), Randell Williams (20), Gethin Jones (17), Carlos Mendes-Gomes (9), Joel Coleman (8) and Will Forrester (4) make up the rest.

The relative lack of games above League One level has, by Wanderers’ own admission, been by design. Sporting director Chris Markham spoke last month about the plan to sign “hungry” players who they feel can push the club further than those who may have already played higher up.

“We have been given a good bit of time and stability by the board, who have backed us really well,” he told BBC Five Live.

“That has enabled us to evolve and progress the squad every year in a measured way, without needing any big overhauls. But one of the keys we have always looked for is that hunger. We have not got many players in our team at the moment who have an experienced Championship CV and that is deliberate in a way, it is because we want people who are hungry and have a point to prove.

“We wanted players who wanted to show people they could play in the Championship, whether that was coming from lower leagues or having had a brief spell and dropped down, young players on loan, it is a real art.”

The Bolton News: Oxford United's squad boasted the most games at League One level, with ex-Bolton midfielder James Henry accounting for 324 of themOxford United's squad boasted the most games at League One level, with ex-Bolton midfielder James Henry accounting for 324 of them (Image: NQNW)

Looking around the clubs in the top six of last season’s table, the ratio of experience in the top two divisions is relatively similar. Aided by a bigger playing budget, Derby’s older squad also had more Championship experience than any of their rivals and had also played more football in general. Paul Warne used 28 players who had between them 6,443 games.

By comparison, Ian Evatt’s players had 4,201 games, or 53 per cent fewer. And the jump is even more pronounced with the younger squads of Barnsley (2,420) and Peterborough (2,143).

Pompey (4,330) and Oxford (4,426) also carried a more experienced squad than Bolton overall, but particularly at League One level, where the clubs have operated for seven and eight seasons apiece. One can only hope it does not take Wanderers as long to find their exit route out of this division.

The departure of Jerome and Bodvarsson also leaves the squad with no player above the age of 30 – something which has not happened since the crazy summer of 2019 when Phil Parkinson scrabbled a squad together to start the campaign at Wycombe.

As it stands, Josh Sheehan is the oldest player in next season’s squad at 29.

The average age of Bolton’s line-up last season was 26.3 years, which placed them seventh in the division. Derby County had League One’s highest average at 28 years, while Peterborough United came in lowest at 22.9 years.

Wanderers’ squad has stayed at roughly the same average age for the last couple of seasons, 25.5 years n 2022/23 and 26.1 years in 2021/22. Evatt’s oldest squad was the one that gained promotion in his first year in charge and was League Two’s third highest at the time at 27.4 years.

From Eoin Doyle and Alex Baptiste to Matt Gilks and Cameron Jerome, Evatt has regularly kept an older head in the squad to help younger players through. The core of his squad has now become more experienced, however, and at 22, centre-half Will Forrester was the youngest member of the first team last time around.

Indeed, the issue of experience could also be applied to the opposite end of the age scale, too. Though George Thomason joined the club in his teens and younger players like Aaron Morley and Eoin Toal have become regulars after being imported from elsewhere, this is the second season running that Wanderers have not given a single league appearance to a homegrown product, or anyone who has graduated through the B Team.

It now falls on Evatt and his recruitment staff to see which side of the equation gets the available investment.

Will the Bolton boss look to bring in a thirtysomething to fill the sort of advisory role that Jerome did in the dressing room, or will he now lean on players like Santos, Jones and Dempsey, who now know the lie of the land in League One, and concentrate on bringing in younger signings who could develop into assets, a la Peterborough and Barnsley?

Finances will come into play and there have been suggestions since the play-off final that Wanderers may have to consider selling one of their top stars to give Evatt enough space to freshen up his squad.

While the club knew it must plan for both success and failure on the promotion front, the potential for lasting damage after the play-off final may now bring a different dressing room psychology into play.

As Markham hinted, the club is not prone to full-on overhauls or knee-jerk reactions. The approach to recruitment is more planned, structured and considered than it has been for some time.

But will the events of May 18 at Wembley change those best-laid plans? And will the remaining players have the hunger that the sporting director had seen in them a few weeks ago?

Or could we see a different approach from Wanderers in the transfer market this summer, and a move towards the tried and tested?