Can Liam Feeney conjure up more wing wizardry for Bolton Wanderers?
LIAM Feeney performed a vanishing act after little more than four hours of football for Wanderers last October.
The question now is whether the wing wizard can conjure up something just as impressive for his second trick.
Back when Feeney arrived on loan from Millwall at the start of the season, Whites fans were clamouring for anyone, anything, to brighten up a campaign that had started disastrously.
The former Bournemouth man came in as part of a three-man rescue squad, alongside Neil Danns and Kevin McNaughton, and had an instant effect on Wanderers’ fortunes.
Fans were on the edge of their seats as he livened up a tense night at Bloomfield Road, and chanting his name as he performed similar trickery a few days later as Dougie Freedman’s side finally broke their winless run against Birmingham City at St Andrew’s.
But just as the manager started to get credit for plucking a diamond from the rough of Millwall’s reserves, an ugly dispute over cash saw him disappear as quickly as he had burst on to the scene.
The Lions tried to capitalise on his early success by triggering a clause in his loan deal that would have meant Wanderers paying a fee – reported to be £400,000 – to sign him permanently in January.
Crucially, Freedman disagreed. And as the midfielder scooted back down south, the manager casually floated the idea that he would probably get his man eventually, perhaps for free, at the end of the season.
So it has transpired. But in the intervening months, Feeney hasn’t built on the promising start he made to the season at the Reebok, flitting in and out of the side at The Den before heading out on loan to Blackburn Rovers where, again, his first-team chances were limited.
The 27-year-old clearly did enough for Rovers boss Gary Bowyer to explore the possibility of a permanent deal but with finances so complicated at Ewood Park – and involving a 4,600-mile trip to Pune, India, to be exact – it was little surprise that his efforts failed.
Freedman brings him back on a two-year deal to much less fanfare than he might have expected in January, when Feeney’s breezy spell was much fresher in the memory.
Millwall fans have been rather dismissive – likewise Blackburn supporters have shrugged their shoulders at the news their club was beaten to his signature by their local rivals.
But again, Freedman is confident in his ability to sign a player, however unheralded elsewhere, that will add to the DNA of his own squad.
Feeney managed nearly three “accurate” crosses in each of his three full games for the club – a figure no Wanderers wide man has achieved all season.
A lack of width has often proved a problem for the Whites boss in his preferred 4-2-3-1 system, so the addition of someone quite happy to hug the touchline could be a blessing.
“Liam is someone who has been on our radar for some time, even prior to his loan spell with us,” Freedman told the club earlier this week. “His pace is obviously his main asset, but he is also the right character for our group.
“He gives us another option. He’s quick and direct and that’s something that maybe we haven’t had recently. In the Championship you need options. There was a bit of competition for his signature, and Liam wanted to come and play for Bolton Wanderers.
“He’s at the right age and has his best football ahead of him. He’s an exciting player and we’re happy to have him with us.”