WHO knew that the man once given a £20million price tag by Fergie, who made his professional debut under David Moyes and once stepped into the boots of a Schmeichel would turn out to be so popular at Wanderers?

Putting aside the Manchester United connections for a moment – there are few players currently enjoying such adulation as Andy Lonergan in what has been a largely miserable season at the Reebok.

For so long an understudy to Adam Bogdan since he came in from Leeds United the summer before last, the straight-talking Lancastrian has carved out a cult status on the terraces with spellbinding saves such as the one to keep out Jamaal Lascelles’ header in the first half of Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Nottingham Forest.

That match was the 300th appearance of a varied career that started 13 years ago in a League Cup tie at Coventry City’s old Highfield Road ground.

“I remember it well,” Lonergan told The Bolton News. “I was 16 and we got beat 4-1.

“I’d just left school and they were a Premier League side with Craig Bellamy, John Aloisi and Mustapha Hadji the Moroccan. We went to Highfield Road and I think we were 3-1 down from the first leg. I went out to look at the pitch and (David) Moyes said ‘what do you think of it?’ “I said it looked okay and he said ‘good, because you’re playing.’ “This was two months after leaving school.”

Lonergan cut his teeth under the now-United boss at Deepdale, where he went on to make more than 200 appearances, a total curtailed by a serious knee injury sustained as a youngster.

And it was at Preston that Darren Ferguson, son of Sir Alex, once laughed off a series of bids from West Brom for Lonergan’s services by claiming he was worth £20m.

After missing out on a shot at the Premier League in the play-offs against Sheffield United in 2009, the keeper left for Leeds United for a tiny fraction of that value, replacing the Leicester-bound Kasper Schmeichel at Elland Road.

But that was not before another brief link-up with Moyes at Everton.

Lonergan trained with the Mersey men whilst still on Preston’s books but failed to agree terms with the club – a decision he now views with a tinge of regret.

“At the time I was at Preston, I knew he (Moyes) was going somewhere in his career,” Lonergan said. “I actually spent a spell at Everton and could have signed for them but decided not to – a bit of a poor decision on my part there.

“You could see there his presence was frightening. He was dealing with big players at Everton and people were scared of him then.

“So I don’t think he’ll have any problem at United.”

Lonergan’s time at Leeds proved a mixed bag and the arrival of Neil Warnock saw the former Sheffield United boss recruit an old ally in Paddy Kenny, effectively ending Lonergan’s chances of a first-team run and leading to Owen Coyle snapping him up in the summer of 2012 for a reported £1million.

The 30-year-old’s current run in the side is his longest since signing at Wanderers, and with Bogdan now fit again after a knee injury, he faces his first challenge whilst actually being in possession of the keeper’s gloves.

Lonergan does not seem to be sweating under the pressure. And why would he?

His recent career milestone saw him frustrate another former Deepdale boss in Billy Davies – a man he insists is a misunderstood soul.

“He’s actually a brilliant manager,” laughed Lonergan when quizzed about Forest’s amazing time-wasting tactics in the second half at the Reebok. “When they went 1-0 up I said to myself ‘typical Billy Davies, that’s game over.’ “But time-wasting isn’t cheating, it’s managing the game. If we go one up then I’d take my time to do things.

“Credit to Billy for what Forest have done this season. He’s a fantastic guy and has got a great staff.

“He’s not shy and he lets you know what he’s thinking. At half time I’m absolutely sure he was rattling into them. On the other hand he gives you great confidence.

“He’s a top manager but we’ve also got one of those. They are different characters but they’ve got a lot of strong points.

Lonergan’s success this season hinges on impressing another Scot in Dougie Freedman – but he feels the point earned against Forest was a step in the right direction for Wanderers.

“I know it was only a point and people might say we should be winning at home but I thought that was fantastic,” he added.

“We’ve had some very tricky games and when you look at the fixture list over the next few weeks it doesn’t get any easier.

“They are teams you might think would put us on the back foot but we’ve been strong.”