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David Lee gives the lowdown on Bolton v Charlton Under-23s

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karlypants

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Good cheer has been in short supply at Wanderers of late – but David Lee’s Development Squad have a chance to provide a distraction from the first team woes in a play-off semi-final against Charlton tonight.

Already champions of the Northern Section, the Under-23s can book an appearance in the showpiece final against either Nottingham Forest or Crystal Palace with victory at the Macron Stadium.

Staff and players found out they had won the league without kicking a ball last Friday as Burnley beat Sheffield Wednesday.

It was ample reward for the hard work put in by Lee, the former Burnden Park favourite who made close to 200 appearances for Bolton. His team has, at times, been the proverbial melting pot of trialists and youth teamers - with more than 40 different players used at various times from Julio Baptista to Joey O’Brien.

Lee will be able to draw upon a more familiar core against Charlton, and one which has played some exciting football at various stages of the season, away from the spotlight.

Now, he hopes his young team can take full advantage of playing their one-leg semi-final on home turf and put some smiles back on faces before this weekend’s big finale.

“There’s no magic formula to it, is there, but I told the lads in training that they have got to go and enjoy the game, treat it no differently than any other,” he told The Bolton News.

“Charlton are a decent team, so they know they will have to be on their game. But I haven’t had any trouble on that front.

“We have had challenges this season. At times we haven’t known what the team was going to be until the 24th hour but the professionalism of the players has been first rate and they have come out on top of any adversity we’ve faced.

“We have had a nucleus of 10 players and there have been times we’ve had to deal with losing Connor Hall or Jack Earing, fill in with trialists or Under-18s, but they have always focused on the task at hand and the attitude has always been very, very good.

“Finding out we’d won the league last weekend was great, and added an extra spring in everyone’s step. So I think we’re all just looking forward to playing a big game.

“All the lads have had experience playing at the Macron, so I don’t see it being a problem. There may be a few more fans there but they won’t be over-awed.”

Several of Lee’s players have been around the first team fringes this season including Jeff King, Jack Earing and 22-goal top-scorer Connor Hall, who travelled with the first team to Burton Albion on Saturday.

Fans have clamoured for the former Sheffield United striker to be given more of a chance in Phil Parkinson’s senior side but his Under-23s boss has been impressed by the way he has handled the attention.

“He’s hungry to play football, whatever level that is at,” Lee explained. “He went with the first team to Burton, which was great experience, and didn’t make the squad, which was the manager’s choice. But he didn’t dwell on it or get too disappointed – he came in and asked to play on Tuesday night.

“It shows his enthusiasm. Even today, we were out there after training doing extra work on his finishing. I like to see that.

“He has scored a lot of goals for us this season and people have started to take notice. But he is only 19 and he might need to be a bit patient, but those opportunities will definitely come along.

“It can be hard when you get pushed up into the first team and don’t get the regular games you get at Under-23s level but Connor is handling himself very well.”

Bolton lost 3-0 at The Valley earlier this month without Hall in the line-up but have not been beaten in a home game since October, when Nottingham Forest ran out 3-1 winners leaving the team 11th in the table.

Lee is confident his players will benefit from the extra pressure of a winner-takes-all semi-final.

“It’s a great occasion for them because these are the kind of pressures you have every week in senior football and it is something they have to get used to if they are going to go on and develop their career,” he said.

“You have to be able to rise above all the drama of a semi-final and try to play your natural game.

“We haven’t done anything differently and since the last game of the regular season we have trained absolutely as normal, even at the weekend.

“Hopefully the lads can put in a performance they can be proud of.”

Lee will be without Harry Brockbank, who picked up a thigh strain at Ipswich, but will welcome back Joe Muscat and Adam Mitchell to the squad after injury.

Entry to the Macron tonight is free to season ticket holders. Otherwise it is £3 for adults and £1 for concessions.

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MartinBWFC

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El Hadji Diouf
El Hadji Diouf
1-0 Jeff King

BoltonTillIDie

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John McGinlay
John McGinlay

MartinBWFC

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El Hadji Diouf
El Hadji Diouf
2-0 Politic

MartinBWFC

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El Hadji Diouf
El Hadji Diouf
FT 3-1

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