GEORGE Johnston has been challenged to take advantage of a “level playing field” to win back his place at Wanderers.

The 25-year-old defender missed the whole of last season because of a serious knee injury suffered in Bolton’s first pre-season game at Bamber Bridge a year ago.

The former Liverpool and Feyenoord man came back to full training in April but was not risked in the final games and told to focus on a pre-season return. Now he is looking to make himself one of the first names on Ian Evatt’s team-sheet once again.

Johnston was virtually ever-present in the previous two campaigns, playing on the left side of the back three, and his return has been a welcome boost to a club looking to shake-off the feeling of disappointment from last season.

“It is great to have him back – and not just his playing ability but also his leadership,” Evatt said. “George is a strange guy, but he’s brilliant, he’s a loveable rogue with some great qualities and people respond to him.

“To be without him for the whole of last season was very, very tough, but to have him back is great.

“He has looked great in the testing, and I said before he left that it’s a level playing field now. Everyone is in the same boat.

“He isn’t trying to play catch up, he’s at the same stage as everyone else now and he has to take advantage of it.

“It is an area of the pitch which is highly competitive.”

Wanderers do not start their pre-season friendly schedule until Saturday, July 13, when they face West Brom at St George’s Park behind closed doors.

The first team face only one non-league side this summer, a July 23 trip to Chorley, and Evatt admits Johnston’s injury at Bamber Bridge last season did prompt them to tweak the type of games they agreed to play this year.

“It came into our thinking, that’s fair, but we also wanted to give ourselves the best tests we could, the hardest tests we could,” he said.

“Like everyone is saying, this league is going to be tough this season and there are going to be some good games, but we feel like we are going to improve as well. Pre-season will be a big part of that.”

“I wanted a pre-season where we would be challenged and tested. There are lots of things that I want to look at and work on during these games, different plans, different ideas. We are not coming away from the ideology but there will be small tweaks that can make a big difference.

“Against that standard of opposition, and the likes of Fiorentina, we will be challenged. These clubs don’t choose friendlies lightly, so it is great that they are choosing us to come and test themselves.

“We are looking forward to it. There is a lot of work to be done on the grass first to bring these ideas to life, and then hopefully it will come to fruition on the pitch.”

Wanderers’ home game against Wrexham will now be shown on Sunday, August 18 (kick-off 3pm) for live television coverage.

One more game has been rescheduled, with the Saturday, September 28 trip to Crawley Town now kicking off at 12.30pm and not 3pm.