AFTER a bumpy start to the League Two journey, Ryan Delaney believes the team that boards the team bus bound for Leyton Orient tomorrow is preparing to go through its gears.

No Wanderers fan will need a reminder that after being bestowed the title of promotion favourites by the bookmakers over the summer, that early season displays fell way short of the billing.

Quite like a spluttering engine searching for a spark, however, signs have emerged over the past week that a squad of 20 new signings are starting to gel.

Whether the Billy Crellin-inspired victory against Bradford City proves to be the turning point Evatt and Co hope remains to be seen but evidence suggests the style of football the new boss brought in during the summer is now finally being embraced across the board.

“I don’t think it’s just one game, in the last few weeks there have been phases in games where it has started to come together,” Delaney observed. “Maybe in the last few games we have produced them more often, I don’t know, but I think it’s getting somewhere.

“We know what we are good at, we know the fundamentals, we play out. And we’re a good footballing team.”

Evatt has reasoned that the task of bedding down his squad has been made more difficult in a pandemic world where players cannot socialise away from the training ground.

That, says Delaney, is where long journeys to Barrow, Cambridge and the forthcoming trek to Leyton will come in handy.

“We do have breakfast together and lunch, so there is a bit of time to bond,” he said. “Maybe it’s not as much time as we would spend away from the training ground and the football side of things.

“We’re trying to mix as best as we can, whether that’s over something to eat or a bit of banter on the pitch. As a whole and considering it’s such a new squad we’re actually quite a close group.

“When you are on a bus for four hours down to Leyton Orient there’s not much more you can do other than chat to each other. I think we’ll take it in our stride.”

A common theme in the Bolton squad over the last few weeks has been reinvention.

Antoni Sarcevic, Ricardo Santos, Alex Baptiste – possibly even the manager himself – have all bounced back from heavy criticism to start moving in a positive direction once again.

Delaney may also count himself in that group, having started the season out of the team and looking slightly incongruous with the style of play being introduced.

The Irish defender, signed by previous boss Keith Hill from Rochdale in January, now appears to have found his niche on the left side of a back three, displacing another summer arrival George Taft to start the last seven matches.

The centre-halves union remains strong, as shown by the stubborn second-half display against Bradford.

“Ricardo and Baps have got great attitudes and they are great footballers,” he said. “Even Brocky (Harry Brockbank), when he was playing centre-half, we got on well as a defensive unit.

“It’s a style which is a bit newer for me. I have played in a back three before, but maybe one that doesn’t play quite the same expansive football.

“I am really enjoying learning every day and hopefully I can keep improving.

“I think all along we didn’t lose sight of the goal. Yeah, a few goals were going in at the start of the season and we got a bit of criticism but as footballers you can’t think too much about the past, you have to stay switched on.

“They say ‘don’t get too high with the highs, or too low with the lows’ and we have to stay level-headed. As a team and a unit that is how we have been.”

Up until Tuesday night, 2020 had contained just a solitary victory on home soil, coming against Tranmere at the start of February. For balance, the win against Harrogate a couple of weeks back remains the only away win during the calendar date, too.

Such stats have not been a hindrance to the squad, says Delaney, even though he was happy to have something to celebrate at the final whistle.

“As players and a team we haven’t really focussed too much on the past,” he said. “We knew Bradford are a good team and that we’d have to be on it 100 per cent. I think we did that.

“Through the game we had our spells, second half we had to defend a little bit more than the first, but we dug in as a team and we got a clean sheet, which is the start, a building block.”

The fall-out from the 1-1 draw at Cambridge United saw added pressure piled both on manager Evatt and keeper Crellin.

It may be argued that both provided the perfect riposte, Evatt by guiding his side to a win and Crellin by saving Billy Clarke’s penalty to keep the Whites ahead in the game.

Inside the four walls of the UniBol, Evatt was certainly hurt by some of the comments made in the media by current and former footballers, especially those who called into question his man-management of the 20-year-old.

Though he apologised profusely for the use of the phrase “man up” – the sentiment stood in the build-up to the Bradford game that the young keeper would have to raise the level of his performances, which had fallen short of expectation.

The squad itself remained relatively unaffected by the furore, and other than a chat with Evatt and his parent club boss, Joey Barton, Crellin’s preparation for the match remained relatively normal.

Delaney said he noticed no difference in the on-loan Fleetwood man but that the dressing room would ensure the youngster continued to progress.

“We are a very tight-knit squad,” he said. “We get on well and we stick together. That’s what a team should be if it wants to push on for promotion.

“Billy is a fantastic keeper, he has a very bright future, and this is just the start.

“I think he took it all in his stride. He’s mentally strong.

“Things like that happen in football and he showed what a good player he is and that he’s got the right mindset.

“Football isn’t all sunshine and flowers. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.

“There will be things that happen through a season where individually we might be able to do better.

“But we are a strong team and we’re well-knit. The main thing for us was that we stick together, staff and players, and we know what we want this season. It’s up to us to get there.”

For the first time on Tuesday night, a gathering of 100 diners watched the match within the confines of the stadium.

Those who reserved tables at the Bolton Whites Hotel were able to watch the game in real time and celebrate both Nathan Delfouneso’s winner and Crellin’s penalty save.

The hotel looks set to continue the experiment for future home games, in what could be a valuable revenue stream in what have been harsh trading conditions.

The Bradford win may ensure that home feels a little sweeter from here on in but Delaney admits it will not feel right until people can pay through the turnstiles once again.

“We look forward to a time when the fans can come in because they can give you a bit of a boost but in the near future it doesn’t look like that is going to happen,” he said.

“We have got to make sure we’re 100 per cent switched on and get the three points we want.

“It’s Leyton Orient on Saturday, we have to recover well between now and the weekend but make sure we go into that one with the same attitude that we showed against Bradford.

“Away from home we have maybe made fewer errors but I think that sort of things comes from being a very new squad.”