NOBODY will ever be able to take away the happy memories of winning the Papa Johns Trophy at Wembley in 2023 but if the club is serious about automatic promotion next season, the competition must be downgraded to the lowest priority.

That day at Wembley gave us the chance to put a punctuation mark at the end of a long and dramatic chapter in Wanderers’ history, a chance to step out of the doom-and-gloom era and into something more progressive and ambitious.

But the idea that they could defend the trophy last season whilst also remaining competitive in League One was a stretch too far.

Factoring in a little run in the Carabao Cup and FA Cup, Bolton played 12 extra fixtures last season on top of a league campaign and associated play-offs. That is simply too much football.

When you also consider players like Josh Sheehan, Gethin Jones and Eoin Toal are STILL playing for their country, less than a month before pre-season starts all over again, and it is clear Ian Evatt is going to have to think hard about the strength of teams he selects.

I will stick to my guns on FA Cup football. Bolton’s history in the competition means they should treat the competition with respect, even though the FA and Premier League are conspiring to make it an afterthought.

I would never advocate that the four-time winners downplayed the importance of a run to the third round, particularly as, for now, we still have dedicated weekends where the action takes place.

Realistically, as the League Cup’s earlier rounds take place early in the season they are not as much of an issue. It is more than a decade since the Whites got past the third round in that one, so it becomes of little consequence.

It became painfully evident last season, however, that the manpower needed to fuel a strong run in the Bristol Street Motors Trophy was beyond was the squad could offer, particularly in the New Year when injuries started to bite.

The club’s contingent of international players mean a handful of games will automatically be rescheduled to midweek, and we should learn in a few weeks how many matches will be shifted away from Saturday at 3pm thanks to the new TV deal with Sky. Those in the know tell me it won’t be a drastic difference, but I remain sceptical.

The last thing Wanderers need is to suffer the same sort of bottleneck that they endured from the turn of the year, which resulted in a crippling run of Saturday-Tuesday fixtures.

The answer, you might say, is to increase the size of the squad. Looking at some positions in the campaign just gone, you could make an argument that more cover was needed – right wing-back being one, a different type of midfielder for the more physical opponents in the division, perhaps?

But carrying a big squad has disadvantages. Evatt used fewer players than anyone else in League One last season (25) and still ended the year with a few stragglers. Liverpool loanee Calvin Ramsay looked nowhere near it, Caleb Taylor didn’t get enough playing time considering the struggles Ricardo Santos appeared to have getting 100 per cent fit, and Will Forrester is probably a column in his own right.

Joel Coleman paid the price for limited involvement and took quite a while to warm up when Nathan Baxter picked up an injury and the same can probably be said for Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Aaron Morley and Cameron Jerome when they were drafted in. You never quite saw the best of them because they had not developed that crucial playing rhythm.

Evatt made some concessions last season to the likes of Luke Mattheson and Nelson Khumbeni, the B Team players who had nudged closest to first team recognition, but having more options from the younger end of the squad is another factor which has not been properly addressed in the current set-up.

There has been ample time now for the project to settle and so – just like any other area of the football department – it has to start producing some results, particularly with players who have progressed through the academy system with years of coaching.

I know the Bolton boss has an especially strong will to win every game in every competition, and that chief executive Neil Hart could show me numbers which show that cup involvement has bolstered the bank balance considerably in the last couple of years, but I think we have now reached the point where everything must be focussed on chasing promotion.

Meanwhile, I’m gutted to see that Dion Charles has aggravated his knee again and hope the problem doesn’t keep him out for too long.

Those who know these things tell me the MCL issue that he has been carrying since February can be tricky to clear.

He had injections and got himself back among the goals but watching him in the last few weeks of the season you could see he was still lacking 10 per cent of his best. And that is where Bolton need him to be.

With a fair wind he can get some rest between now and when the players return and get enough of the pre-season work to make sure he has that crucial base fitness. If so, I’d back him to become the first player since Nat Lofthouse to score 20 goals in three consecutive seasons for Bolton Wanderers. Some achievement, that.