When Bolton Wanderers announced the signing of striker Gary Madine, it caused great debate throughout the club’s support.
The 24-year-old penned a deal at the Macron Stadium, following the end of his contract with Sheffield Wednesday, earlier in the summer.
Given the off-field actions of the Gateshead-born forward in recent years, I was cautious of his arrival when Bolton confirmed the deal – however, on a positive note, Madine has exceeded my expectations during pre-season so far as we look ahead to the 2015-16 Championship season.
Having played a key part in the Trotters’ friendly schedule, Madine has found the back of the net on a regular basis, as he gears up for the forthcoming season, which kicks off on Saturday with a home game against Derby County.
Following on from his form shown during those matches, Wanderers supporters will be eager to see what the target man will be able to achieve with the club – can he be the man who can get us goals on a week-in-week-out basis?
He was loaned out to both Coventry City and Blackpool last season from his parent club, so with a fresh start on the horizon, the forward will want to make the right impression, and he has certainly done that so far in the games that he has played. He will certainly be looking to rediscover his form of the past.
Finances scuppered any move for the Trotters’ top target, Adam Le Fondre, who completed a loan move to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday, having spent a fruitful loan spell from Cardiff City at the Macron Stadium last season – scoring eight times in 16 games.
With Bolton having lost out to Kenny Jackett’s men, Wanderers manager Neil Lennon is likely to use Madine as his main striker to add some much needed presence up front. Time after time over the last few seasons, Wanderers’ permanent forwards have failed to deliver the goods on a consistent basis, with Bolton having to draft in loan acquisitions to salvage their season – so hopefully Madine can break that duck and prove to be a success.
A similar physique to former striker Craig Davies, who left on a free transfer to Wigan Athletic, Bolton fans will be hoping that the ‘goal machine’ will be able to replicate his form of the 2011/12 season, where he scored 18 goals in 38 games to fire Sheffield Wednesday to promotion from League One.
Other than Madine, Wanderers will be hoping that their other forwards can contribute towards the cause next term, with the emphasis very much on youth.
Youngsters Zach Clough and Max Clayton are two players whom I’m tipping for great things in the future, and will undoubtedly be key players next term, once they recover from their respective injuries. Clough enjoyed a dream start to his senior career, with the 20-year-old academy graduate scoring the solitary goal on his professional, in an FA Cup third-round tie against Wigan Athletic in January. The starlet went on to score six times in ten games, before injury ended his season early.
Clayton is also on his way back to full fitness, after also starting his Wanderers career in a bright fashion after signing from Crewe Alexandra last September, but the 20-year-old was then ruled out for the rest of the season in December with a cruciate ligament injury.
With youth, you need inevitable experience, and the club have retained the services of Emile Heskey for the new term. Veteran forward Heskey is to sign on for another season at Bolton, having done a job in his 16 appearances last term, netting the solitary one goal against Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day.
Whist he was hardly prolific during his six-month cameo, Heskey offered physicality when leading the line, filling the void left by his fellow attackers. The 37-year-old former England international adds depth to Lennon’s squad, after agreeing to continue his playing career for yet another year, following on from his return to the English game under his former Leicester City team-mate, towards the back end of last December.
Whatever happens over the next ten months of the season, Wanderers forwards will need to find their shooting boots, and unlike strikers in previous years, I believe that this current crop will, eventually.