ALEX Baptiste’s rise to unsung hero level among the Wanderers fans has not taken Ian Evatt by surprise.

The veteran defender was afforded a lukewarm reception on his return to the club in the summer, five years after his last spell had ended.

Bolton’s early season form did not help his popularity but Evatt believes his strong character has been a big factor in the recent upturn in fortunes.

Baptiste, who played alongside Evatt at Blackpool earlier in his career, turned in a man-of-the-match performance against Southend United last weekend which had creative Bolton supporters grafting his likeness on everything from Kevin de Bruyne to Christ the Redeemer on social media.

But though it may seem an elevation from zero to hero in some people’s eyes, Evatt was confident he brought Baptiste in for the right reasons last summer.

“He’s playing exactly how I expect him to play,” said the Bolton boss. “I’m not surprised, not in the slightest, I wouldn’t have signed him if I didn’t think he was capable of performing the way he has done.

“I don’t think he had the best of times in his first visit here in his first spell and that can happen. But I’ve known Alex for a long, long time and I know what he can do, I know what he’s about, he’s a character and as a player and it comes as no surprise to me.

“The main thing is that we need to keep going and keep being consistent. He’s a very good player, you don’t play in the Premier League if you’re not, it’s that simple.”

Evatt led his side to five consecutive victories in November and – if results go his side’s way on Saturday – could see Wanderers in the top seven for the first time this season with victory against Port Vale.

He insists, however, that the team is far from the finished article.

“There’s lots of room for improvement, always in all areas to be honest,” he said. “Defensively we need to make sure that we don’t switch off.

“Sometimes when you’re dominating possession and dominating games, you can concentrate more on what we’re doing in possession than out of possession and I think our centre backs in particular are improving on when we have the ball in the final third and when we are attacking. They’re thinking and seeing danger and locking onto opponents, guarding against the counterattack.

“We’re still not perfect with that and I think our reaction out of possession again is improving, so when we give the ball away, we don’t show disappointment, we have that instant reaction to press the ball, the six second rule that I spoke about before, get tight to someone, win it back and then try and hurt them in the second phase of the transition.

“In possession, we just need to make better decisions, I still think we can be better with the ball, be braver with the ball, we can make better decisions, we can have more quality and detail in the final third - I can speak to you about it all day long, I don’t think we’ve got enough time, but we’re always trying to improve and striving to improve.”