WHEN Harry Brockbank replaced Adam Senior at Rotherham United on New Year’s Day 2022, he will have had little inkling of the significance of his appearance.

Ian Evatt had called on the two homegrown defenders to solve an injury crisis in the squad, bringing Senior back from a loan spell in National League North with York City a few weeks earlier.

Brockbank walked off the pitch at the New York Stadium after a 2-1 defeat and remains the last academy graduate to play a single minute of first team football for the Whites.

For the last two whole seasons no homegrown player, nor any member of the B Team has featured in a League One game, a pattern which shows little sign of changing this year with Evatt and his side throwing their resources entirely behind a promotion push.

Prior to the current lull, the last time Bolton had not featured a single academy graduate in their squad was 2010/11 as a Premier League club. Back then, manager Owen Coyle had been forced to put youth before experience in goal, with Adam Bogdan featuring four times, and it can be argued that the Hungarian had spent ample time in the development squad to be considered a product of the system.

Thanks to the presence of Nicky Hunt and Kevin Nolan, Wanderers had maintained a homegrown presence in their squad even at the height of their fame, so the current dearth is a unique occurrence, and one which has no obvious end in sight.

Wanderers have not given a single minute of league football to academy players in the last two seasonsWanderers have not given a single minute of league football to academy players in the last two seasons (Image: NQNW)

Bolton made the decision to disband their Under-23s section four years ago, also downgrading the academy to category three to save costs. A year later the decision was partially reversed, with the creation of a B Team, intended to offer a stepping stone for the Under-18s to senior level, but also a platform for Wanderers to bring in young players who had been released elsewhere to offer them full-time coaching and the potential to progress.

Though several players have made the step up to play for the Whites in cup competitions, there is still a feeling among many supporters that the venture is yet to prove itself a success.

At its conception, Evatt had wanted the B Team to create one first-team option a season, and if that is to be the cast this year a lot of hope rests on the shoulders of wing-back, Luke Matheson.

Far from a homegrown product, the former Rochdale and Wolves defender had already made well over 50 senior appearances before he arrived at the club last summer, determined to get over a couple of long-term injuries and restart a career which promised so much.

The former England youth international had earned a big money move to Molineux but had mixed fortunes out on loan and suffered a couple of major lay-offs which led to his release.

Bolton’s B Team offered the ideal place for him to rebuild. He impressed in a handful of cup games and then spent a “short but sweet” spell with Irish side Bohemians, returning in June. With Wanderers actively seeking wing-back options in the transfer market, the chance of regular football at first team level seems slim.

It is a similar case for Nelson Khumbeni, the former Norwich City youth product who has developed his game well in the last couple of seasons and, like Matheson, earned a couple of chances in the knockout competitions.

A loan spell at Morecambe last season in League Two went well but the pace at which the first team has evolved makes it difficult to see how the 21-year-old breaks into the regular league line-up.

Conor Carty is another player who has pushed himself to the fringes of Evatt’s plans, scoring in the Papa Johns Trophy at the start of the 2022/23 run to Wembley.

The Irish striker earned himself a loan move to Doncaster Rovers last season after a successful spell with St Patrick’s in Ireland but was hit by a serious knee injury and is only now approaching a return to the training ground. Where he picks up again in the next few months is up for debate.

Limited opportunities have been given to academy players like Sam Inwood, Max Conway, Conor Lewis, Sonny Sharples-Ahmed and Noah Halford, and five of Julian Darby’s successful Under-18s side were also rewarded with their first professional deal this summer.

Jack Dallimore, Sean Hogan, Joe Toole, James Westwood and Harrison Fleury will all be hoping to make the next step but with Wanderers’ attention fixed so firmly on the Championship the gap between B Team and first team looks wider than ever.

Jack Dallimore, Sean Hogan, Joe Toole, James Westwood and Harrison FleuryJack Dallimore, Sean Hogan, Joe Toole, James Westwood and Harrison Fleury (Image: BWFC)