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2MF4J00 Conor Bradley #21 of Bolton Wanderers during the Sky Bet League 1 match Bolton Wanderers vs Forest Green Rovers at University of Bolton Stadium, Bolton, United Kingdom, 24th January 2023 (Photo by Phil Bryan/News Images)

Conor Bradley books Wembley final spot after Liverpool cup exit

Though Liverpool were knocked out of the competition in October, Conor Bradley has helped Bolton book their place in the Papa John’s Trophy final.

In four seasons taking part, Liverpool are yet to progress beyond the group stage of the Papa John’s Trophy.

There are a number of reasons for this, chiefly the tournament pitting their under-21s against first-team sides but also the poor timing of many games during internationals.

Nevertheless, it is seen as a vital proving ground for the young Reds, and it has undoubtedly helped many as they make their steps into senior football.

This season, though, the player to most take advantage of the opportunity is Bradley, who has been a revelation on loan at Bolton.

On Wednesday night, the 19-year-old made his sixth appearance for the club in the Papa John’s Trophy and his 38th in all competitions as he started at right wing-back against Accrington Stanley.

With a familiar face in the opposition ranks in Liverpool academy graduate Liam Coyle, Bradley played 96 minutes of a hard-fought semi-final.

Accrington went down to 10 men in the 22nd minute, but held on until the closing stages before goals from Elias Kachunga and Aaron Morley earned Bolton’s place at Wembley.

Bradley was a foul magnet throughout, with Accrington’s Sean McConville receiving his red card for a nasty challenge on the teenager.

But he kept dusting himself off and pushing for the opener, with two shots on goal in quick succession and an assist ruled out for Dion Charles’ offside finish.

Eventually the breakthrough came with two goals in three minutes for Bolton, who won 2-0 and will now face Plymouth Argyle in the final at Wembley on April 2.

When it came to handing out the Player of the Match award, it was Bradley who received the honour for another all-action performance in an exceptional season.

In his 38 appearances for Bolton so far, the Northern Ireland international has scored six goals and assisted another six, starting all 29 of his outings in League One.

Bolton has lost only two of their last 16 games, winning 10, with a 1-0 defeat to promotion rivals Wycombe on Saturday ending a five-game winning streak that brought 14 goals scored and only one conceded.

Ian Evatt’s side are currently fourth in League One, with any hope of retaining Bradley resting on their sealing a spot in the Championship.