IT won’t have escaped Ian Evatt’s attention over the international break that a mood of disquiet has struggled to clear at Wanderers.

Disappointed by defeat against Carlisle United, nonplussed by many of the performances in the first quarter of the campaign, a sizeable section of the Bolton fanbase will be expecting significantly more from their team when they return to action against Northampton Town on Saturday.

Evatt and his team have tackled such crises of confidence before, many times in fact. Fans called for his head a few months into his new job in 2020 but this week the removal of Gary Rowett at Millwall elevated him to the 11th longest serving manager in the EFL.

This will be his 181st game in charge – pushing him past the great Jimmy Armfield, who guided Wanderers out of this division as champions back in 1972/73. Oh, for a repeat of that success half a century later.

Evatt also nudges closer to the 183 games managed by Colin Todd, whose free-scoring Bolton team registered the most comprehensive promotion in the club’s history in 1996/97. Anything close to that would be splendid, too.

As it stands, Bolton are sixth in the table, with at least one game in hand on all but Oxford United above them. The seven-point gap to the second-placed U’s is the chief concern, however, particularly knowing how any hopes of a top-two spot were extinguished early by runaway leaders Plymouth Argyle, Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday last term.

Play-offs were the aim 12 months ago, and Evatt ticked that box, albeit the semi-final defeat over two legs against Barnsley felt somewhat of an anti-climax. Any dissatisfaction was also offset by the fact the manager also led his team to a knockout trophy success for the first time since 1989, that glorious day at Wembley also acting as a nice closing act on the redemption arch of a club that had gone close to extinction four years earlier.

Rather than Armfield or Todd, the play-off near miss evoked the spell of Phil Neal, who had also won (and lost) at Wembley but found a promotion to the next level an impossible step to climb.

Derided at the time by many Bolton fans, history has been kinder to the former England international, who with hindsight can see the seeds he sowed for Bruce Rioch’s subsequent success at Burnden Park in the years after he left.

Evatt certainly won’t want his achievements to be relegated as a supporting act in the same way. And unlike Neal towards the end of his time, he still retains a very healthy majority of support in the stands.

It would be a great surprise if his name doesn’t bounce around before a ball is kicked on Saturday, and for some time after. “We’ve got Super Ian Evatt,” as the song goes. And though some have clearly failed to warm to the manager and his ways even 180 games in, there are many still willing to back him through good times and bad.

Much of the discourse over the last fortnight has revolved around the Carlisle collapse and whether it was symptomatic of a team incapable of meeting its target of automatic promotion, or just one a slender squad feeling the pinch of players missing through injury and suspension.

That means the pressure has been turned up on this, a final home game before tricky away ties at Wycombe and Charlton, and a squad now presumably free from the fatigue that had been an issue a couple of weeks ago.

The margin for error was always slimmer in this season, compared to Evatt’s previous three. The perceived inconsistency of the opening 11 games and the fact the team has now fallen slightly short of the manager’s oft-quoted two-points-per-match average only whittle it down further, and lend more airtime to the manager and his team’s doubters.

Another international break lingers in the distance in November, before which Wanderers have five league and two cup games to negotiate. To regain Evatt’s target, they will require 12 points from that chunk of fixtures, a tall task indeed, but failure to beat Northampton in the first would leave them no wiggle room whatsoever.

On these fine margins Bolton are operating this season.