RICARDO Santos is getting back to his best at Wanderers after a summer of hell, says Ian Evatt.

The big defender will run out against Oxford United this weekend having kept two clean sheets in three outings already this season, the latest of which was an eye-catching 1-0 win at Lincoln City on Tuesday night.

And though Santos has been playing catch-up after Covid and a foot injury side-lined him for three weeks during pre-season, Evatt believes he will only get better from here on in.

“Rico looked more like his old self the other night,” he said. “The game at Wimbledon did him well and I think he’ll go from strength to strength with every game now. He’s definitely on his way back after a tough pre-season.”

Evatt has a big choice to make as he ponders whether to pair the hugely influential Santos with the more familiar Alex Baptiste, or whether to keep faith with summer signing George Johnston, who was equally impressive in the 1-0 win at the LNER Stadium.

It was high-fives all round in Bolton’s back four at Lincoln as Santos and Co kept each other motivated to shut out their hosts.

And Evatt wants to see more of the same on Saturday as they take on an Oxford side who also boast an unbeaten record in their first three games.

“As a former centre back, I used to celebrate good defending like they were goals and I think as a team it is important you do that,” he said.

“It is not all about scoring goals. It is about defending as a team as well and when someone does something really good defensively, then that should be equally celebrated, and I am pleased that they have that bond and celebrate those times.

“We’ve been disappointed with the goals we have conceded so far this season, so it was great for them to keep a clean sheet on Tuesday night.”

It is no great revelation to the Bolton boss that the likes of Johnston, Josh Sheehan and Amadou Bakayoko have made such an encouraging start to life at the UniBol.

“It isn’t a surprise,” he said. “We wouldn’t have signed them if we didn’t think they would do that.

“We didn’t just put in weeks of hard work on recruitment, it was months. Right the way back to February, you all thought I was crazy planning for League One in February but we managed to do it. We got the business done quickly because we had already done our homework and had the irons in the fire, ready to go.

“The ones that have played so far – Baka, Sheehan, George Johnston – have done well and it’s not surprise to me.”