OPERATION Cup Confidence passed without a hitch for Wanderers, who booked their place in the knockout round of the Papa John’s Trophy with minimum effort and maximum enjoyment.

A first win at Spotland in 36 years was achieved with three well-crafted first-half goals which were a timely reminder of how good Ian Evatt’s side can be to watch in full flow.

Dapo Afolayan took his tally to nine for the season with a goal which warrants repeat viewing, Declan John doubled the lead three minutes later and then Eoin Doyle ended his nine-game wait for a goal from the spot just before the interval.

There was even a chance for the Bolton boss to bring Liam Edwards off the bench for his first appearance since January 2020, completing his long-awaited comeback from injury.

Evatt has used the Papa John’s Trophy to spread the game time across his squad thus far but with confidence so brittle, he took a calculated risk in making just three changes from the side beaten at Portsmouth on Saturday.

Alex Baptiste, George Thomason and Josh Sheehan came in for Kieran Lee, Will Aimson and Nathan Delfouneso, presumably in the hope a win could inject some momentum ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup clash with Stockport County and beyond.

After about 10 minutes there may have been some nervous looks among the coaching staff in the dugout as Dale’s early energy seemed to catch the Whites on their heels.

Baptiste’s early slip gifted a chance to home skipper Matty Done 20 yards out but thankfully he took his shot on early and it skidded just wide.

A few moments later Conor Grant got around Lloyd Isgrove and cut a cross back for Danny Cashman but he could only aim a shot straight at Joel Dixon.

Elias Kachunga helped wake Wanderers from their slumber, putting in his most encouraging 45 minutes for the club to date. The former Huddersfield Town man was fully of classy touches and had the measure of his marker, Aidy White.

Another player who has been under the microscope of late, Eoin Doyle, also made maximum use of his start against lower league opposition.

The Irishman scrapped for second balls, bounced off defenders and, crucially, ended a 15-and-a-half hour wait for a goal with a penalty on the stroke of half time. Not that a soul inside Spotland could have denied him the chance.

Dapo Afolayan opened the scoring with one of his trademark darting runs from the left flank, his venomous shot giving ex-Wanderers keeper Jay Lynch absolutely no chance from 20 yards.

And just three minutes later John doubled the lead, following up after Doyle’s shot had been blocked. Once again, however, the leg work had been done by the persistent Kachunga, whose cross had caused panic in the Rochdale penalty box.

Home fans were upset with referee Andrew Kitchen for not penalising MJ Williams late in the half for a challenge on youngster Cashman, which eventually forced him off the pitch.

But Wanderers were relentless and grabbed a third goal when Doyle, momentarily disoriented when the ball bounced over his head, switched play to Afolayan with a glorious pass, and the winger surged into the box to draw a foul from keeper Lynch.

You would have needed a crow bar to wrestle the ball from Doyle’s hands as he looked to put a goal on the board for the first time since scoring from the spot in the 5-2 win at Ipswich in September. There was an inevitability about the ball hitting the back of the net, though, and he won’t care a jot whether it was from open play.

The second half was simply about Wanderers keeping their heads and seeing the game through.

Rochdale began with a flutter, Corey O’Keefe blasting a shot just wide and Stephen Dooley having another deflected wide.

But normal service was soon resumed as the Whites constructed a move of 30-plus passes from their own keeper which ended with John’s cross being headed back at the far post by Isgrove, agonisingly behind the waiting Doyle.

Had Isgrove gone for goal himself, as he would have been quite entitled to do, there would have been a serious rival for Afolayan’s previous rocket in the quality stakes.

The Bolton fans were certainly enjoying themselves, going through their whole repertoire, regardless of whether their side were in possession or not.

Doyle came within inches of scoring his second of the night when he was played in by Sheehan on the right side of the box and drove a cross-shot wide of the far post, or any of the boots trying to get a decisive touch.

Dale had a couple of chances to pull one back late in the game, the best coming when Done’s cross reached Odoh 10 yards out – but he somehow side-footed wide with the goal begging.

Evatt brought Edwards and Mitchell Henry on for the final few moments of the game in what was the only concession made on the night.

This was about restoring confidence, and it was a job well done.