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Dion Charles interview: Bolton striker on Ian Evatt's faith and why crunch clash with Portsmouth is a must-win game

Sky Sports exclusive: Bolton Wanderers striker Dion Charles discusses manager Ian Evatt's faith and standards, promotion aims after League One play-off defeat last season and why Monday's crunch clash with Portsmouth is a must-win

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Bolton striker Dion Charles discusses thriving after Wanderers manager Ian Evatt showed his faith during difficult spells last season.

Four months into the season and it has already been one to remember for Dion Charles.

The 28-year-old striker has scored 14 goals in 22 appearances in all competitions, playing a significant part in the promotion push that is taking shape again after disappointment in the League One play-offs in May.

He is actually only eight goals away from a new personal best tally for a season, which he set last year with 21.

There is no getting away from the fact that is an impressive return but, on closer analysis, the season was not without its struggles - by the start of December last year, he had only scored three in 15 league games.

It is something he is open about as he speaks to Sky Sports in an exclusive interview ahead of Wanderers' trip to Portsmouth on Monday, which is live on Sky Sports Football.

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The faith showed by manager Ian Evatt, he says, is the reason he is now firing on all cylinders.

"I've got a lot to thank the gaffer for," Charles says. "He brought me to this massive club when I was at a low point in my career and showed faith in me and I've proved him right that he made the right decision in bringing me in.

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"Perhaps last season there were times when I probably shouldn't have been on the pitch. My job for the team is to score goals and I wasn't scoring them, but the gaffer stood by me.

"When you've got the manager's backing, you're always going to see the benefits of that. He stuck by me, I had a good run in the second half of the season and I'm on target this season."

Northern Ireland's Dion Charles
Image: Dion Charles

Charles' goals have been crucial in Bolton's climb towards the summit, but as a modest character, he credits Evatt's standards as the major contributing factor.

"The gaffer is on us every single day in training about setting the bar so high for our standards and, if we dip below them, he doesn't shy away from telling us," he continues.

"There's maybe a fear factor, so you don't want to be on the end of a telling-off. We're in this business to win games of football and the gaffer's perfect for that for us.

"We've got a great group, everyone's buying into the philosophy the gaffer has brought to the club since he's been here and we're getting the rewards for it."

This summer, Charles signed a new contract at the Tough Sheet Community Stadium that ties him to the club until 2026. It is clear he knows it was the right decision, despite reported interested from Championship clubs that circulated in the summer.

"The club had put their faith in me and I had to show some loyalty back," he says.

"It's having a positive effect on my performances and I'm only getting better every game. I'm in a great position at the minute, on and off the pitch, and I'm getting the benefits of that.

"You probably don't realise how big of a club Bolton is until you're actually in it. The fanbase is incredible and where the club is going has come on leaps and bounds since I've been here, so who knows what it's going to be like in the next couple of years? It's a brilliant place to be."

Bolton lifted the EFL Trophy for the second time in 2022/23
Image: Bolton lifted the EFL Trophy for the second time in 2022/23

After overcoming obstacles last term, Charles scored the most goals in a single season of any Bolton player for 22 years, since Michael Ricketts hit 24 in 2000/01.

Now, he is chasing down Wanderers legend John McGinlay - now a club ambassador - who was the last player to score 30 goals in a season for the club in 1996/97.

With 14 in 22 games in all competitions on the board so far and Bolton still challenging in the FA Cup and Bristol Street Motors Trophy, there are a minimum of 30 games left for Charles to score the 17 goals he needs to reach 30.

He is averaging 0.64 goals-per-game, so, if he keeps up that rate and plays in all available games, he will reach 33.

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Highlights of the Sky Bet League One match between Oxford United and Bolton Wanderers.

"When we play at home, John's always in the tunnel welcoming the lads," he says. "I have a laugh with him every game day and I always let him know: 'I'm coming for you - I'm going to catch you!'

"It's great for us to see such a legend that's got so many records at the club. It gives me that bit of motivation that if I can get close to those records and still be around at this big club, I'll know I've done well for myself."

His next chance to add to that tally comes on Monday, when Bolton travel to Fratton Park for a crunch clash with current leaders Portsmouth, live on Sky Sports Football.

A win for Pompey takes them six points clear at the top of Sky Bet League One, but one for Wanderers will likely see them rise back to the summit, given their superior goal difference.

With a goal and an assist in the 2-0 Bristol Street Motors Trophy win over Port Vale last time out, Charles is raring to go.

"I thrive off that pressure. These are the types of games you want to be involved in when you are a kid growing up - massive, top-of-the-table clashes.

"Win or lose, it's going to be a tough game. They are at the top end of the table, like we are, for a reason. It will be a good advert for League One. We're on a good run at the minute and we're eager to get out onto the pitch and show everyone what we can do.

"We had conversations when we first came in at the start of the season about our aims, what we wanted to get from this season and we've not shied away from the fact promotion is our biggest aim. We're on the right track.

Bolton's next five League One fixtures

  • Portsmouth (a) - December 11, 8pm
  • Bristol Rovers (h) - December 16, 3pm
  • Leyton Orient (h) - December 23, 3pm
  • Lincoln (a) - December 26, 3pm
  • Fleetwood (a) - December 29, 7.45pm

"I feel like it is a must-win. We must win every time we step out onto the pitch. Playing for a club like Bolton, the expectations are on us, but that pressure is something we all enjoy."

Thirteen years ago, this was a Premier League fixture. Speaking to Sky Sports in November, Evatt himself reiterated his belief that Bolton are a Premier League club. Charles agrees.

"We are. You only have to look at Luton, for instance. They've bounced up the leagues in a short space of time and Ipswich last year in League One and they are doing well.

"I feel like, with the style of football we play, we can continue to play that in the league above."

Watch Portsmouth vs Bolton live on Sky Sports Football from 7.30pm on Monday December 11; kick-off 8pm.

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