SATURDAY afternoon, five to three, and there is a collective intake of breath when the Macron’s match announcer reveals inspirational captain Jay Spearing is not on the team-sheet.

There are obviously too many voices around the Macron to pick out any individual comment but the tone is one of worry. How would Wanderers cope without a player who has been their beating heart for the last few months?

The answer provided was succinct, and for nine minutes the football pure fantasy.

It doesn’t matter that this is League One, or that Port Vale amounted to a very ordinary opponent on the day, the movement, execution and passion shown at that point in time was as satisfying as anything this team has produced in recent memory.

Goals from Zach Clough, Josh Vela then Lawrie Wilson put the game beyond sight. And with 74 minutes remaining, it was ridiculous to ask the Whites to maintain those standards until the end.

Numerous chances to extend the lead were missed and Port Vale somehow got themselves on the scoresheet.

Such details were moot, in the end, as this was a statement to the rest of the division on just how seriously Wanderers should be regarded as promotion candidates.

Spearing’s presence was perhaps missed in the latter stages, as a touch more direction in midfield may have resulted in a more emphatic score-line.

The reason Liam Trotter was able to blend in so effortlessly, however, had originated earlier in the week, far away from the jubilant crowd, at Lostock.

The midfielder has been a peripheral figure in the last month, dropped from the team after defeat against Oxford United and not even present for the Under-23s last week because of rules on how many overage players could be selected.

As is the footballer’s will, he sought answers from his manager.

If we have learned anything about Phil Parkinson in the last 143 days since his appointment, it is that he relishes the chance to chat with his players one-on-one.

He is quite open about the subject matter – and after speaking with Trotter he quite bluntly told the 28-year-old that he needed to see more from him.

Reports from the training ground, via Parkinson and his assistant Steve Parkin, suggest the desired response was found.

Trotter dug in, and though Spearing’s misfortune presented the opportunity, he seized it with both hands.

That situation rather sums up Wanderers in the last few months. Little situations have arisen, small problems have been there to solve, and Parkinson’s rational and astute style of man management has provoked the right response.

Whether it be the faith shown in Josh Vela and Lawrie Wilson, the encouragement offered to Sammy Ameobi or the responsibility heaped on more experienced heads like David Wheater, Mark Beevers and Mark Howard, the manager and his staff have coaxed more out of each member of his squad in a slightly different way.

Perhaps that, more than the swaggering football we witnessed in the opening quarter of an hour, should encourage Bolton’s fans that the club has indeed turned a corner on the pitch.

This victory, which takes the Whites past their points haul for the whole of last season, was their sixth in a row.

Taking into consideration their next two cup opponents are from the division below, Parkinson’s side can really get themselves on a roll by the time they return to League One action at Peterborough United in a fortnight.

Each of the three early goals had a moment of magic to savour. The first, a beautiful spin from Clough 30 yards out on a fine pass from Derik Osede before a perfect finish from the edge of the box.

Vela’s second had a modicum of controversy about it. Ameobi danced down the line past Dutchman Kjel Knops, who stopped, believing the ball had gone out of play, and allowed the Whites star to fire a low cross in, spilled by Jak Alnwick, and swept with delight into the net by a young man who is really enjoying his football at the moment.

Wilson saved the best for last. Vale had cleared Zach Clough’s corner from the penalty box but as Derik and Vela converged on the ball, the full-back burst out of nowhere to smash a right-footed shot back past the hapless Alnwick.

There is no question Wanderers should have scored more. Ameobi’s trickery got him into some great positions, while overlapping winger Andy Taylor put some smart balls into the penalty box that begged to be put away.

Gary Madine had one of those days where one goal would have made all the difference. The big striker is winning the crowd over with his work-rate and has been praised from within the club for his attitude on the training ground, but adding to the three goals he scored early in the season has proved a difficult task.

Vale keeper Alnwick should get some credit for one decent double save in the second half, and covering defender Knops was also on hand to head Madine’s chip from under his own bar.

Wanderers needed that fourth to get going again – but instead their opponents were offered a little bit of encouragement.

Howard made a superb stop to deny Remie Streete and deserved better when a cross popped up off the boots of Madine, back helping to defend, before being bundled over the line by Horwich-born Sam Hart.

Vale’s goal was only a slight dampener. Parkinson’s side have started to mix and match their resilience with a bit more showmanship, supplied by their enterprising trio of Clough, Vela and Ameobi.

Keeping a whole squad in form is a tough plate-spinning job which will test Parkinson’s managerial skills to the limit. But in a division of few outstanding teams, Wanderers are already proving themselves among the most durable – and you sense there is still more to come.