Considering the recruitment issues faced by the club in the first few months of the season, it is quite remarkable that fortunes have been turned on a few weeks of good business in the January window.
A squad created in lockdown has never played in front of its own fans. And some might say that was a good thing earlier on in the campaign.
For too long, Bolton leaned heavily on the likes of Eoin Doyle and Antoni Sarcevic for inspiration, but now they can look to almost any area of the pitch and see genuine competition for places and a player who deserves the shirt on a Saturday afternoon.
But if 90 minutes against Walsall proved anything at all, it is that the road to promotion is littered with potholes.
The Saddlers’ spoiling tactics were crude but understandable. Of course clubs will look to put Ian Evatt’s side off their stride, as they are very difficult to live with in full flow.
Walsall worked hard to disrupt and frustrate, and their game-plan worked a treat for the first 60 minutes, when Evatt looked to his bench for someone to shake things up. As it happened, the mere sight of white shirts warming up on the touchline was enough to spark a few players into action and not only did Kieran Lee equalise, but Bolton grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and looked the only winner from there.
The character in this team never really came into question, even during the inconsistency of the season’s first few months. It was simply a question of familiarity with a complex system and one of quality in a few key areas of the team.
Evatt had to make tactical compromises, move away from his much-vaunted 3-4-1-2, switch keeper, plug holes until he had chance to bring in the right players during the transfer window.
Credit where credit is due, almost all the signings made at the start of 2021 have added something to the team, pushing it to a level few of us thought possible at the midway point.
Wanderers have powered their way from 19th to fifth at rapid speed. They are the team every one of the leaders is looking over their shoulder to see right now. But with 10 games to go, absolutely nothing has been achieved just yet.
Just as Walsall looked to throw a spoke in the wheels, nobody in League Two is going to just allow Bolton to play open and expansive football because the secret is out.
Comparisons to Manchester City are a little pointless – but a parallel can be drawn with the way most Premier League teams look to shut them down, rather than take them on at their own possession game. Those who do not rarely end up with much to show for it.
Wanderers can expect a few more afternoons like Saturday, a few more puzzles to solve. The exciting thing, however, is that you sense this team has not yet reached its potential and if Evatt can avoid losing key players in the run-in, finding an extra five per cent in the last 10 games might just be enough to break into the top three.
It will be fascinating viewing, that much is guaranteed. And few of us would have foreseen that back in a gloomy December.
[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]