THERE hasn’t been any great defensive epiphany at Wanderers this season, nor has Ian Evatt seen the error of his attacking ways.

No doubt it was once the case with Bolton that if the opposition scored three, then it did not matter, for there was enough firepower in the squad to score four.

Slowly, however, Evatt has layered in enough tactical detail to make sure his side still play an expansive brand of football, easy on the eye, but crucially one backed up by discipline and a team shape that can hold on to a narrow lead.

The Wanderers boss would still rather see his side rattle in four or five – who wouldn’t? But with a deeper and more experienced squad there has been a gradual and pleasing realisation at the UniBol that promotions are built on clean sheets and graft, much more than swaggering score-lines.

Lincoln City arrived with the intention of choking Bolton. Slipping from their normal 4-3-3, they sat deep in a 5-4-1 block and hoped to capitalise on frustration, that the home side would flood forward and leave gaps to be exploited in transition.

They had not reckoned on this being a smarter Wanderers. Confidence is understandably high after a run of victories but there is a noticeable unity about the team which has really come to the fore in the last few games. This is a time when late saves and blocked shots are celebrated with just as much gusto as goals themselves.

World Cup rugby league will be gracing the UniBol later this month and just as a pack of forwards might congratulate their team-mates on seeing out a set of six close to the line, so did James Trafford, Ricardo Santos, George Johnston and Co as they saw off Lincoln’s last efforts in the death throes on Saturday evening.

Bolton teams of old led by Sam Allardyce or Phil Parkinson have achieved promotions on such strong foundations and to make comparisons should only reflect well on the current crop. Crucially, they are also capable of those explosive bursts of modern attacking football that can tear through opponents in this division – and while Lincoln’s stubbornness ensured they were a rare sight, there was more than enough to guarantee all three points.

The front two of Dion Charles and Elias Kachunga continue to be unselfish, working feverishly to maintain a high press and regain possession quickly, even if it sacrifices some of their goalscoring percentages.

This was a win that owed much to the speed of the ‘second wave’ – Kieran Lee, MJ Williams and George Thomason – whose leg work between the two penalty areas meant they were first to any loose ball, keeping the visitors penned back for nearly the whole afternoon.

The relentlessness of it all was quite something to behold. Very early on it looked like Jordon Garrick’s direct running and pace may cause issues but his threat was neutralised quickly, Johnston’s thunderous challenge on halfway creating a satisfying sonic boom of boot on ball to get the crowd on their feet.

Early on, Wanderers looked a little clunky in attack. The usually dependable Lee got himself into some good positions only to lose his composure, and Conor Bradley – his impact dulled by a deep-lying defence – had another effort crowded out.

It was not until five minutes before half time that Bolton finally got some breathing space, Jack Iredale feeding a ball into the left channel for Kachunga to chase, and having got the wrong side of Adam Jackson, the Bolton front man was sent tumbling to the floor in the penalty box.

The stadium was up on its feet demanding a penalty but referee Neil Hair – well known to the Whites after a controversial game at Tranmere last January – waved away the appeals.

For a brief second, Evatt’s blood started to boil again on the touchline. Linesman Stephen Wade came to the rescue, literally with a word in the referee’s ear, and the decision was reversed.

Charles drilled the penalty past Carl Rushworth, just reward for the yards he had covered, and a lead was established; crucially, Bolton never looked like relinquishing it for a second.

The second half, if at all possible, was even more under Bolton’s control. Lincoln continued to concede possession and territory, daring their hosts to cut a swathe through.

Not for the first time this season the Whites lacked some ruthlessness. Kachunga missed one big chance close in and Charles could have had a second, latching on to Iredale’s cross but failing to sort out his feet. Evatt would later claim the Northern Ireland international had been fouled.

Wanderers looked in control but Lincoln forced a couple of set pieces to remind them of the fragility of a one-goal lead. As the minutes ticked down, that jeopardy increased.

Nobody expected the helping hand the Imps were about to give them. Young defender Sean Roughan had a throw in 10 yards inside his own half and after turning towards his own goal, inexplicably threw the ball in sub Jon Dadi Bodvarsson’s direction. The Icelander swapped passes with Dapo Afolayan, also on as a replacement, and then finished neatly into the bottom corner.

Trafford’s superb reaction save at the bitter end denied Lincoln’s Matt Virtue a consolation and served as a reminder of this newfound clean sheet mentality.

Brand Evatt is evolving for the better and its components are improving too. Thomason’s physical development in the last six months has been rapid and his understanding with MJ Williams in the centre of midfield has been a real factor in the recent upturn in form.

Wanderers had shown a steely edge in victory against Peterborough and over 90 minutes this weekend their discipline allowed them to maintain a tight grip on the game.

Evatt is refusing to allow himself, the fans or his players to get ahead of themselves but there can be no doubt that such attributes can lead to success. How far it can take them remains to be seen.