Bolton defend highlights area for improvement in ‘massive’ learning curve at Wanderers

George Johnston is targeting improvement in his defensive qualities next campaign after admitting it has been a ‘massive’ learning curve playing regular League One football in a positive first full season at Bolton Wanderers.

The 23-year-old joined Wanderers last summer on a free-year deal from Dutch side Feyenoord. He had got game time under his belt from him the previous campaign in the second half of the season with Wigan Athletic.

The recently concluded campaign in which Wanderers finished ninth proved to be the first full one in men’s professional football in Johnston’s career. He has scored twice in 48 games in all competitions.

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Johnston went on to establish himself in the heart of defense to become a first choice selection for Ian Evatt. He is now seeking to kick on next season at Wanderers after going on a big learning curve in the campaign which has just concluded and will be putting in the hard work in the off season to improve where he deems necessary in his game.

He said: “Personally I think it has gone well and I have learned a lot, especially through the gaffer and the coaches. This is probably the first season I have played week-in, week-out, and with fans. When I was playing in Holland it was during lockdown.

“It has all been new experiences for me – home games have been really different to away games, which is something I have had to get used to. The derby days, I have not had those before. I have tried to absorb everything I can and working on my weaknesses and continuing to do what I think I am good at. I need to take that into the off-season.

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“I’d say defensively (is the biggest area to improve). I think you can always improve on that whether it’s your aerial duels or just your communication across the back line, there’s always something to improve on.

“But to say I’m better at something compared to something else doesn’t mean I can stop working on them stronger areas so stepping in, passing through the lines, I’m always looking at different options and different areas I can play the ball to hurt the opposition when I step in, so it’s just my all-round game really but I think the off season definitely physically I’m going to try and work as hard as possible.

“Every week I am learning something new, something different. There is a different type of striker I am up against who needs to be handled differently, and it might take me two or three duels to realize where I am winning them and how to win them.

“As the season has gone on, I think coming into the games, I have realized who I am coming up against and what is needed to win those duels. I am just trying to learn as much as possible and I think I have taken on so much information this year, it is going to put me in good stead for next season.”

A hallmark of Johnston’s game has been his ability to come out of defense with the ball and be progressive with his passing to get Wanderers further up the pitch. Being good on the ball is something Evatt demands in all positions of his team.

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The defender knows this is a strength of his compared to his aerial and physical abilities, which he believes team mate and Wanderers skipper Ricardo Santos is more accustomed to. But Johnston believes both are aspects of the campaign he improved as the campaign wore on and is aiming to play as many games as he can next season to build on a positive first season at the Whites.

He said: “Earlier in the season I was not as streetwise, the ones (strikers) who are obviously bigger than me and used to the physical battle which I was not, but I think in the second half of the season I have become more You can’t win every ball you go for but sometimes it is about how you win it, and I have to be smarter than the attacker.

“The gaffer wants us to be progressive so that is what I aim for and my stats for that are quite high. Then obviously the other side I might not win as many aerial duels as someone like Rico but I think that is something I have to work on.

“I still want to work on the progressive stuff but I think the physical side is something I have dealt with better as the season has gone on.

“I can’t remember the time I’ve played this many games in a season, probably under-23 level, but it’s nowhere near the same stuff. It’s been massive for me.

“I don’t know how many games but it must be around 40. It’s been tough, especially now going into games, I’m physically tired as well as mentally so it is tough now going into the back end of the season.

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“But you see the top players going for trophies every season and this is what they’re up against each season, so it’s something to take on board definitely going into next season if we want to push towards the top of League One. We’ ve got to be ready at the back end of the season.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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