NOBODY in football has been busier than Remi Matthews this season – but the Wanderers keeper has been in the firing line in more ways than one.

Since the turn of this year Matthews has seen his move from Norwich City come close to collapse, gone five months unpaid by his club, had a transfer to Crystal Palace blocked by administrators and faced up to the possibility Bolton could go into liquidation.

There has been little respite on the field of play where, after Wanderers’ relegation last season, the 25-year-old went through a five-game spell where his team shipped 26 goals, leaving him wide open to criticism from the terraces.

The stats show that in his seven appearances this season Matthews has faced, on average, 25 shots per game, but has also made more saves than anyone else in the division with 30.

The Bolton News: Matthews makes a save against Oxford Matthews makes a save against Oxford

Little wonder, then, that after keeping a clean sheet against Oxford United on Tuesday night he sank to his knees in celebration.

For a young man still in the relative infancy of his career for a goalkeeper, Matthews has packed a lot into his Bolton experience to date. Now, as he prepares to shut out Sunderland at the University of Bolton Stadium, he talked of the changing mood inside the club after a change of management and ownership.

“In my whole football career this has by far been the toughest situation I have been in and I hope it makes me stronger… In fact, I am sure it will make me stronger,” he told The Bolton News.

“I could have thrown the towel in by now. I could have feigned an injury or anything like that. I could have made sure I wasn’t in the firing line.

“It has been tough but from day one I said I’d come to Bolton to play football and whatever that means it’s what I want to do. This has been an eye-opener and it’s not an experience I’d want anybody else to have to go through, but I am here now and let’s hope it can only get better.”

The portents were not great for Matthews when in January a registration embargo left the club unable to complete his permanent transfer from Carrow Road and facing the prospect of uprooting his young family and moving back down to Norfolk.

The Bolton News: Matthews with Ben AlnwickMatthews with Ben Alnwick

The move was resurrected in the end and after Ben Alnwick picked up an injury Matthews got an extended run in the first team by way of a reward.

Both keepers stayed at Wanderers through the worst of the financial problems, even though a potential escape route to the Premier League with Palace was closed off to Matthews when administrators demanded a £300,000 fee.

A summer was spent scouring websites and newspapers for updates on Bolton’s financial issues, which spilled into the current campaign and led to the much-publicised disputes by senior playing staff, who felt they had been kept in the dark about takeover progress.

Matthews now sees some light at the end of the dark tunnel and buoyed by the midweek result against Oxford feels Keith Hill’s influence is now starting to have an effect on the team.

“Last season was just tough, tough, tough,” he said. “Whether I was here, there, in the team, out of the team, but it is one I’ll always remember because I got the experience of playing in the Championship. I feel like I showed a few people that I was good enough to do that.

“When we came back in for pre-season there were high hopes that things would get sorted and we could move on. You’ve seen how well we have done after a week or two, so imagine if this had been done a month or two earlier?

The Bolton News: Matthews during pre-season training Matthews during pre-season training

“We just need to keep building because we are all in it together. There are one or two of us – me, Ben Alnwick, Luke Murphy, Connor Hall, Jason Lowe – we have all come through it together and that is a real achievement. Now we need to push on.

“Now there’s a huge weight off everyone’s shoulders. The gaffer came in and set his standards very high from day one and they have been different class with us. They’ve told us how they want to play, what they want us to do and as you’ve seen, we are starting to buy into it.”

Even though the mood inside the club has improved immeasurably from the widespread anger of last season or the uncertainty of the summer months, there has still been a knock-on effect for those who went through the experience.The goalkeepers’ union at Wanderers was particularly hard hit – and professional pride dented with every heavy defeat at the start of this season.

“It has been a bad experience,” Matthews said. “Ben has had problems himself, so have I, we have all had to get through a very difficult time. I think it’ll be three or four years before it really hits you and you realise what has happened.

“Right now we’re trying to get through games and doing the very best you can. I am not going to pretend it hasn’t been hard to concede five goals every game, but I look at the goals I’ve conceded and then how many saves I’ve made. Not everyone sees that.

“People might see that it’s 5-0 and automatically assume it’s the keeper’s fault.”

Keith Hill looked to take any perceived blame off his goalkeeper’s shoulders on Saturday when Wanderers shipped six goals at Rotherham – but as is the modern way, the negative messages often find a way of seeping through.

The Bolton News: Wanderers boss Keith Hill Wanderers boss Keith Hill

While Matthews is hardly pleased with some of the comments made on Twitter, Facebook and the like, he is determined to rise above it and leave his manager to pick the team.

“I’ll take the stick I have to take,” he said. “I am big enough and strong enough to do that. If I was mentally weak I wouldn’t be standing here now, I’d have thrown one in and gone somewhere else.

“I’d have gone when I could have gone because there were a couple of chances to get out. But I have stayed because I want to be at this football club.

“Look, social media is a massive thing. You have however many fans who watch you play a game away from home and they see what happens, how it goes, and then those who sit at home and just see 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, 5-0.

“And, okay, I can take the criticism and they can say what they want. It isn’t personal.

“I know I am good enough to be at this club and to be playing in the team. It’s down to the people above me to pick me and I’ll always give it my best shot.”

Matthews may take some solace from the fact tomorrow’s visitors Sunderland have not been prolific this season, in fact their average of 9.3 shots per game is second only to Bolton (6.3) as a divisional low.

There was much to admire about the style of football played against Oxford on Tuesday night but Hill was keen to keep his players’ feet on the floor.

“The gaffer said after the game that we’d set a standard there but it’s just a start,” Matthews explained. “We have to progress and make sure those draws are turned into wins.

“We can’t look at playing well against Oxford and then cruise into the next game. We started well against Rotherham in the first 10 minutes, saw how good a feeling it was, then all of a sudden we were right back down to the bottom.

“We should have killed the game off but we got the clean sheet which is… it’s massive, it really, really is. It isn’t just a big thing for me but it’s a relief for everyone.

“We are not looking at the league table – even though we’re not stupid, we know it isn’t great. Everyone will have to look at it eventually.

“It would be nice to keep putting points on the board for now. The main aim is to stay in this division. I think we have got more chance than we ever have had.”