Liam Gordon admits he was unprepared for what life would be like as a Bolton Wanderers player.
Signed from Dagenham and Redbridge in the summer of 2020 amidst talk of algorithms and Moneyball recruitment, the young defender soon found the going tough as Ian Evatt’s team suffered teething problems in the early days of League Two.
Despite getting positive reviews in pre-season, Gordon quickly looked like a player targeted by bigger, physical sides in the bottom tier, his confidence draining away in front of the watching audience on iFollow.
Before heading back to Dagenham for a much-needed dose of positivity his final league start had been in a home defeat to Oldham Athletic – an afternoon which ended with Evatt branding the performance “disgusting” and pledging to make immediate changes to a group who were failing to live up to their billing.
At that precise moment in time, good odds would have been given on Gordon getting a shot at redemption. But on Monday night the young man patiently waited his turn at the side of the press room to begin a conversation with the local press that was one part interview, one part confession.
Gordon had replaced Declan John on a few occasions already this season but his 90 minutes against Burton had been the most convincing of the lot.
So where was this Liam Gordon 12 months ago, we all asked?
“One major thing was that I wasn’t fit enough. I admit that now,” was the answer.
“I didn’t understand the demands that there would be in League Two, especially coming to such a big club, knowing they wanted to get promotion right away. Coming from the National League it just wasn’t like that.
“I needed to work on that. This season I need to answer a lot of people’s questions, whether I am ready to play in this league.”
With John back from the illness which kept him out against Burton, the question on everyone’s lips is now whether the proven Wales international steps back in against a player who now looks a worthy adversary for a starting spot.
That it is even a debate at all is testament to Gordon’s hard work in the last nine months, a journey which started at Dover’s Perry’s Crabble Stadium on Boxing Day, once again wearing the colours of Dagenham.
The 22-year-old made 23 appearances in his second spell with the Daggers, and as a converted winger also added four goals.
Back in Bolton, the team was evolving quickly from the struggling one he had left behind. John’s arrival was instrumental in a promotion push that took League Two completely by surprise post-January.
Gordon returned in the summer labelled surplus to requirements by most. Crucially, that number did not include the manager, Evatt.
“I had a great time at Dagenham, did well, scored goals. A lot of the boys helped me,” Gordon told us. “Once I’d come back I knew I had to get my head down. The manager said not to think about going out on loan or anything like that, just try my very hardest to get in the team and believe in myself.
“The lads here have been so welcoming. That could have been a very different situation.
“They have helped me a lot with my confidence, they believe and trust in me when I am out there, so I feel like I have to repay them. People like Daps (Afolayan). Everyone knows what he brings, he’s a great player. And he is one of the ones who particularly talks to me.
“Him and Dec had a great partnership down the left this season and last season.
“I have stood there trying to watch them, learn from the movement and the communication.”