WANDERERS’ new head of academy Dave Gardiner believes the club’s conveyor belt is now ready to start rolling again.

A summer of investment at Lostock has seen a series of staffing changes and the introduction of a new B Team, led by Matt Craddock.

Many believe the club’s youth section has been overlooked in the past few years as the pandemic hit hard and first team football took precedence but a new wave of players, including highly-rated young full-back Max Conway and striker Finlay Lockett, are now knocking on the door of first team football.

Gardiner has worked with Wanderers for the last 15 years at several age groups and took charge of the Under-19s last season.

Now, after taking over from Mark Litherland as head of the academy, he hopes to revive momentum which may have been lost in the last few years.

“It’s the start of a new era,” he told The Bolton News. “I joined when Bolton Wanderers were in the Premier League and it was a great place to be, and over the years I have seen plenty of things go on, good times and the bad.

“But what is exciting to me taking this job on is that I know what this club means to the fans, to the staff that are here, to the town. And the academy plays a massive part in that.

“The club is at the start of a fantastic journey, and I think it has a clear vision, so it’s my job now to make sure the academy is aligned with where the club wants to go.”

Wanderers had the most productive academy in the whole EFL just a few years ago having nurtured the talents of Rob Holding, Zach Clough, Josh Vela, Oscar Threlkeld, Luca Connell and several others to league level.

And a whole crop of academy gems came to the club’s rescue just three years ago when financial ruin looked just around the corner.

Those same problems affected the structure and flow of players at Lostock and set in place issues that have only just started to clear.

Gardiner hopes this summer’s reorganisation can be the start of a golden period for the club’s youth system.

“There is no prouder moment than seeing one of the lads go on and play for the first team,” he said.

“Taking them through, sometimes from the age of six or seven. We had Ronan Darcy in today, who is a great example, Harry Brockbank is another one. To see them make that debut on the pitch is a great feeling not just for the staff but for the community as well.

“We have an unbelievable infrastructure at the academy and some great staff as well.

“The big job now is to make sure we are aligned, make sure that pathway is definitely there, that's the key. And that is one of the main reasons for bringing in the B Team, so that there is an extra step for these young footballers to come through and maximise their potential.

“Time will tell. But it is an exciting time for the staff and the players and we can’t wait to get involved.”