DION Charles was a relative latecomer to league football, but you get the sense he intends to make up for lost time.

Well into his twenties by the time he got a serious crack at the EFL with Accrington, the Wanderers striker has seemingly been on a mission to prove his early doubters wrong ever since.

Having hit 20 goals for Stanley, he last season became the first Bolton player to do so in a single campaign for more than two decades, and this time around he is already a quarter of the way there with five goals in his first seven games.

Charles’s upwards trajectory led to interest from Championship clubs Stoke City and Watford in the previous transfer window, and a pre-emptive move from Wanderers to wrap up their prized striker in a new contract to 2026.

It is strange to think that just four years ago he was still an untested quantity at league level and re-learning the ropes under John Coleman – his one previous shot at Fleetwood having come to nothing.

Charles had done the hard yards in non-league with Fylde, Halifax and Southport, but could his younger self have imagined spearheading Bolton’s push for promotion to the Championship back then?

“I would have laughed but I would have been quietly confident,” he said.

“It is amazing to be at this football club. I remember as a young boy growing up when we’d drive past the stadium and thinking ‘what a place this would be to walk out and play football.

“It is so many young kids’ dream, and I am getting to live that.

“I could always tell that I was better. But football is a lot about luck, getting your chance and being in the right place at the right time. Luckily when I got the chance again, I managed to kick on.

“Coming here was the perfect point in my career. I was still young with something to prove and the bit between my teeth.

“You never know what happens in football, so every time I step out on the pitch I remind myself I am lucky to be there. You can’t play with any regrets. Nothing is guaranteed. While I am out there I have to give it my all.”

Charles and Eoin Toal travelled with Northern Ireland to Slovenia and Kazakhstan at the weekend – a round trip of some 7,000-plus miles. What physical toll that has taken on the pair remains to be seen, or whether it will be considered by Ian Evatt when he picks his side to face Reading at the weekend.

The 27-year-old’s rambunctious, busy style – honed in the less glamorous grounds of the non-league - is unlikely to change in any case. It has made him a terrace hero at Wanderers for fans young and old in the last 18 months and put him on the radar of clubs in the Championship.

“I think you have to have that same attitude,” he said. “Fans appreciate that. Fans go, work hard, spend whatever they have got watching us up and down the country. The last thing they want is to see people not putting it in.

“Football is one of the few things in the world that can bring so many people together. The fans are massive – they can be a 12th a 13th man. They are important to us, and we need that backing from them every game, they are incredible, home and away, and it helps us a lot.

“I take it as a compliment when you hear of getting linked with other teams. It shows you are doing something well. But I’m here, I’m a Bolton player and I enjoy coming into work every single day. I enjoy being around the management and the players and there is a real feelgood factor around the place.”

Michael Ricketts was the last Bolton player to score 20 goals – in all competitions – during a single season. He followed that up with another 15 the following year as Sam Allardyce’s side successfully stayed in the Premier League but Bolton fans will need no reminder of what happened to him after that – a move to Middlesbrough and an unsuccessful battle to capture the form that had earned him an England cap.

Charles insists the second 20-goal haul of his career is only a starting point, and with Bolton looking to lead from the front in League One, he is keen to register a total that will be hard for himself, or any of the strikers who might follow him, to catch.

“It was a really big personal achievement and as I’ve said a couple of times now I want to go one better and set another, bigger record that nobody is going to match for another 20 years,” he said of the 20-goal marker.

“I get better each season. I came into the game quite late, so I have got quite a few more years ahead of me, so hopefully there are a lot more goals to come.

“I have said in all the interviews I have done that I was brought here to score goals. It is something I thrive on, being a goal-scorer, and hopefully I will score many, many more.”

Wanderers resume league action on 13 points from their first six games, with results proving quite favourable at the weekend.

While the Whites were on an international break Stevenage jumped into top spot by a point with a draw against Carlisle United but previous leaders Exeter City were beaten at home by Leyton Orient.

Concerns have been voiced around the Bolton fanbase about squad depth, or even quality in some areas of the pitch, but Evatt’s side has reacted well to their one significant setback against Wigan Athletic and are keen to keep the consistency going this weekend, where they could return to the summit with the right set of results.

While many may judge Bolton on the signings they made in the window, Charles believes there has also been significant improvement within the existing squad that could make the difference between success and failure.

“We have got a brilliant group and a great coaching staff who are on at us every single day to be the best and set such high standards that if anyone slips, they are told. We need to improve all the time,” he told the club.

“I think, as a whole, we have started very well. Two points a game average, if you keep that up for a whole season, will get you promoted, so we are on track.”