GETHIN Jones reckons one January signing in particular has helped Wanderers turn from League Two’s defensive softies into one of the division’s toughest nuts to crack.

A clean sheet at Port Vale on Saturday was Bolton’s seventh in their last 11 games, a far cry from the first half of the season when Ian Evatt’s side had one of the most porous defences around.

Jones puts the improvement down to a change in system – with Evatt switching from a 3-5-2 to 4-2-3-1 system, and also to the arrival of midfield enforcer MJ Williams from Blackpool.

The former Liverpool and Rochdale man has gelled well with another new arrival, Kieran Lee, in the middle of the park to give Wanderers’ back line more reliable cover than it had in the first few months of the season.

“I think the whole thing has evolved,” said Jones. “The way we are playing now is more solid and the recruitment in January has really helped. Getting MJ in has been brilliant because he’s a big lad, physical, helps us out a lot and reads the game well.

"When me and Dec (Declan John) bomb on he sees the gaps and fills in so that if they counter he’s there to back it up.

“Everyone is working hard, we’re pressing as a team and winning the ball back and it’s going well at the moment.

“MJ has been brilliant for us, doing all that dirty work, and you need someone like that in your team, especially against sides like Port Vale.

“The whole team is buzzing at the moment. The changing room, the staff, people at the training ground, we’ve all got that smile on our face. We want to get this club back to where we want to be.”

Confidence is high in the camp and there was a general consensus within the group that a major hurdle had been cleared at Vale Park on Saturday after 10 gruelling matches in 32 days.

“After the game we said in the changing room that this game was probably going to be the toughest we have between now and the end of the season,” Jones said. “It’s a big pitch, not the best to play on, a physical team, 4-4-2, we had to be switched on at set pieces. To come away with a clean sheet and three points, we were made up.

“The gaffer had said we might not be able to play the way we wanted to but it was a big test of the other side of the game. Could we step up? We did that.”

Players have been given a couple of days off to recharge the batteries before preparations for the home game against Walsall commence.

The quick-fire set of fixtures has competed in the mud at Mansfield and Southend, the wind and rain at Vale, and the frenetic pace at Bradford – and ranks for Jones as one of the most difficult spells in his career.

“It has been hard on the legs,” he said. “We’ll have a good recovery between now and the end of the week and then start working on Walsall.

“It’s probably the hardest run I have ever had. Something like five weeks of Saturday-Tuesday and it has been really intense but the recruitment in January changed things and we have depth where we can change things now, every game if needs be. We know there are players who can come off the bench to win us games as well.”

The visit of Walsall on Saturday gives Wanderers another chance to avenge one of their defeats earlier in the campaign.

The 2-1 reverse at the Bescott Stadium in December was a bad-tempered affair in which the Whites struggled to match their hosts’ physicality in the end.

Jones is confident a new-look team can handle the job, and use a bigger and flatter pitch at the UniBol to better suit their playing style.

“We were disappointed with how it went there but we know when we play at home that we can play a game our way,” he said.

“It is difficult for teams to come to our place and stop that – so we will look forward to Saturday.

“There are big tests between now and the end of the season. We know we can do it and the confidence is high. If we get a chance to play we know we can beat teams.”