A certain number 14's hard working style and ability to bully defenders, to the annoyance of opposing players, fans and managers, made him a cult hero during his decade at Bolton Wanderers. On the basis of yesterday's debut in a hard fought 0-0 draw with Derby County, Gary Madine may well be the man to fill the big boots of Super Kevin Davies.
Madine put in a bustling, dominant performance against a strong Derby centre back partnership of Jason Shackell and Andy Keogh, winning everything in the air and coming close to winning all three points for his new side as he smashed the bar twice with two dominant headers. He's not just a big battering ram either, he showed on several occasions that he has good skill and composure on the ball - in a manner that was almost Olivier Giroud-esque.
Wanderers came into the season opener with limited expectations against a side widely tipped as title favourites. The severe lack of defensive options, as Tim Ream missed the opener through injury, meant that optimism was even further depleted, but we weren't taking into account a heroic performance from a brand new signing and a composed team defensive effort we have been starved of for some time.
Dean Moxey stepped into the left-back berth in Ream's absence, with Lawrie Wilson making his debut at right-back and fellow debutant Prince-Desir Gouano alongside Dorian Dervite, with Ben Amos making his first appearance as a full-time Bolton player. Jay Spearing made a welcome return alongside Neil Danns and Darren Pratley in midfield, with Zach Clough playing in behind new man Madine and Liam Feeney, in his new roaming striker role.
Wanderers began the game brightly as both sides failed to create meaningful chances, with probably the best chance falling to Feeney after he turned on half-way and ran at the defence only to drag his low shot wide of the near post. The main talking point of the first half was two injuries to Derby midfielders Craig Bryson and Will Hughes - the latter being carried off on a stretcher after it appeared he caught his studs in the turf.
The main positive for Wanderers was Madine's dominance up top, winning everything that was thrown at him and attempting to bring Feeney and Clough into the game. Young defender Prince - who hadn't even trained with his new teammates - made a series of good tackles and his reading of the game was a particular highlight.
Moving into the second half the game livened up a little, as Derby came out of the changing rooms intent on swinging fortunes in their favour. The main danger man was the lively Tom Ince, who went close with a free-kick and laid on gilt-edged opportunities for striker Chris Martin, who ballooned over from six yards out, and substitute Andreas Weimann, who somehow put the ball out for a throw-in with his shot from the right hand side of the box.
Shortly before that great build-up play between Clough, Wilson and Spearing saw Clough feed a lovely ball into the box to setup Spearing, but he couldn't get enough power on it to trouble Scott Carson.
And it was the hosts who could easily have come away with all three points - hitting the woodwork no less than three times in the last quarter of an hour. The game shifted when Emile Heskey was introduced in place of Clough, who struggled to get into the game as he was starved of space bar a ten minute spell in the second half - including one run where the referee (who I'll move onto later) bizarrely failed to spot a blatant free kick when he was hacked down from behind.
Heskey, who I think looked a little trimmer after a pre-season with the club, caused further havoc in the Derby defence, first hitting the top of the post with a header from Danns' lovely chipped cross, then showing twinkle toes to dance inside the box and almost threading a pass into Madine.
Wanderers then came within inches of winning it as Madine crashed two imposing headers against the bar. First, after Wilson broke down the right and swung a perfect cross straight onto the big man's head and he directed it perfectly past Carson only see it smash the bar and bounce down and out to safety - it was a superb hanging leap and an almost brilliant header. Then minutes later Heskey and Madine caused chaos in the Derby defence to force a corner, which was swung onto Madine's head, and yet again it smashed onto the bar and out, leaving Wanderers cursing their luck.
Late on in the match Spearing was dismissed for a ridiculous second yellow card. Having broken past two Derby tackles in the box the little midfielder went to ground very easily and was shown a yellow for diving by the inept referee. That decision left Wanderers up against it for the last few minutes, and Derby very nearly capitalised following a catastrophic first touch by substitute Liam Trotter on the half-way line which saw them counter and Martin's goal-bound shot heroically blocked by the new man Prince.
There were plenty of positives on show for Wanderers against Derby. The most important one has to be the collective defensive performance, in particular from the impressive Prince - who barely missed a tackle all match and read the game immaculately - and Dervite, but also from debutant Wilson, who understandably started nervously but really grew into the game and looked a threat coming forward, and Moxey, who had probably his best performance in a Bolton shirt.
In front of the back four Jay Spearing also had an excellent game. The combative midfielder got in and about the Derby players giving them no time on the ball, and he also showed signs of good link-up with Clough in what was easily the best game I've seen Spearing have for us.
Up top Madine was dominant, and provided a real focal point to our attacks that we've sorely lacked. We were perhaps a little over-reliant on the long ball up to him and we struggled to win the second ball after he won his headers, and that's something Lennon can work on with his attackers. Alongside Madine, I thought Feeney impressed in patches as well. His pace was a threat, he just needs to work on his final ball and have a little more composure when he gets the chance to shoot. A 'supporter' near me in the crowd yesterday had a running campaign of abuse aimed at Feeney - even having a go at him when other players lost the ball!! - which I found wholly unacceptable given he really put a shift in for the team yesterday.
A negative from yesterday's game was the performance of the referee - who sent off Spearing for 'diving,' when it was far from clear that he had and both his and the Derby's players reactions told you he had slipped, and gave a string of contradictory decisions. Spearing's first booking was for a strong challenge on the half-way line, only minutes after a Derby player had made a late two footed tackle which went unpunished. He failed to give a clear foul on Clough as he ran towards goal, only to then award Derby a free-kick for exactly the same thing on the half way line 30 seconds later. The referee also failed to miss a clear elbow from Martin into the throat of Prince in the first half. All in all, he was shocking.
While it was far from a perfect performance from Bolton, we have to take positives from the performance and be thankful it's not as bad as the 3-0 embarrassment at Watford on the opening day of last season. Lennon has uncovered a gem in the form of Prince and has a potential fans' favourite on his hands in the form of Madine, so lets hope they can build on this performance in the next few weeks. It's also worth remembering the likes of Josh Vela, Mark Davies, Ream and Max Clayton are waiting on the sidelines to bolster the side.