NATHAN Blake has challenged Wanderers playmaker Josh Sheehan to raise his game higher for club and country this summer.

After watching the Bolton midfielder start two international matches against Gibraltar and Slovakia last week and captain Wales for the first time, Blake could sense some disappointment from the play-off final defeat was still being carried on the player’s shoulders.

Wales drew the first game 0-0 and lost the second 4-0, which has heaped pressure on manager Rob Page ahead of the Nations League campaign, which begins in September.

But Blake reckons Sheehan, voted Wanderers’ player of the season for 2023/24, will feel it was a missed opportunity.

He told The Bolton News: “It was a difficult situation for Josh because he is obviously devastated with what happened at Bolton, I know I would have been, but he’s having to get himself up for the Wales games as captain of the team against Gibraltar, who no disrespect are not top opposition, and there’s a little thing going on in Germany that we’re not a part of and we wanted to be there.

“All things considered he was OK.

“He is a connector – he’ll connect the centre-halves, the full-backs, he wants the ball all the time and he wants to connect possession for the team through the lines.

“He wasn’t able to get into positions where he could really affect the game because they sat with 10-11 men behind the ball, and that was as much the fault of the way Wales set up as anything he did.

“Other players should have been breaking lines and getting in behind, stretching the game a bit, even if it’s just a yard, half a yard.

“I don’t think Josh played badly and you certainly wouldn’t look at him and say ‘he’s not pulling on a Wales shirt again’ but at the same time you wouldn’t say he’s made a claim to start over the likes of Ethan Ampadu or Jordan James.

“He ticked a box without being stand-out. And as a former footballer I know that if you are first choice you can afford to have a game like he did but if you are looking to push into the team then you need to do more. I am sure he would accept that.”

Former Wales international Blake has had one eye on Sheehan’s progress from his early days at Swansea and Newport County and hopes he can brush off any lingering regrets from last season to come back stronger.

“I have always rated him as a player, I thought he was way too good for Newport when he was younger and needed to be at a much bigger club,” he said.

“He is coming off a good season for Bolton, even if it ended badly for everyone involved.

“The test for him now is to stand out at international level, in the biggest game am I going to choose you strength-wise, physicality-wise, skill-wise?

“I wouldn’t say he didn’t do enough but I’d want to see him do more.

“I know what he can do, I give him a tick for it, but show me something that I didn’t know you could do.

"He needs to take whatever disappointment he had now and make sure he comes back bigger and better for Bolton, they all do."