Bolton Wanderers’ promotion hopes have hit a setback, with news defender George Johnston is set to miss the 2023/24 season.
The Trotters, beaten play-off semi-finalists, are expected to be challenging for automatic promotion this season, but their hopes will take a hit with the news that the 24-year-old will play no part this season.
Johnston, who joined the club from Dutch side Feyenoord, played 45 matches for the club in all competitions last season but was injured in his first pre-season outing against Bamber Bridge. He damaged his anterior cruciate ligament, which will require an operation to repair, followed by a lengthy period of rehabilitation. That means at least nine months out, ruling him out of the entire campaign.
“As we feared, it’s the worst possible news,” boss Ian Evatt told the club’s official site. “There are no further complications, which can be the case. It’s quite a straightforward one, so there are some positives to take. George has been a terrific player for us and will be again, and he will have all the support and care necessary to get him back to full fitness as quickly as possible.”
The defender began his career with Liverpool, securing a £500,000 move to the Eredivisie in 2019. He struggled to make an impact in the Netherlands, appearing just four times before a loan move to Wigan in the Championship. The Latics avoided relegation to League Two with him in the side and moved for him the following summer ahead of their title campaign.
However, he opted to join Bolton and has appeared 93 times in total for the Trotters. He was a key figure in their push for a top six spot last season, appearing in both semi-final matches against Barnsley.
This is a big blow for Bolton. Johnston was very much expected to be a key part of their promotion challenge, and in terms of their squad, it had been weakened, meaning a likely rushed move in the transfer market.
It’s a sad occurrence for the player as well. An ACL injury can be tough to come back from, and you can also be susceptible to such injuries after recovery – Jodi Jone and Lewis Montsma are both players who suffered one ACL injury, quickly followed by another. It’s why Johnston won’t be rushed back.
However, he’s young, and if his rehabilitation is handled right, he could well return in the 2024/25 season to a Bolton side fresh to the Championship. Yes, they’ll feel the pinch of his absence, but they’re still expected to challenge for the top two by many this season, and the capture of Will Forrester will mitigate the impact to some degree.