RICARDO Santos hopes to make Ian Evatt pay for his set piece challenge at Wanderers.

The wager between manager and squad, in which the respective Christmas kitty is boosted depending on whether a goal is scored or conceded from a corner or free kick, has definitely worked in the players’ favour so far.

As club captain, Santos is already eyeing up some of the more extravagant party venues, but he admits the recent improvement on the ‘uglier’ side of the game has been long overdue.

“Since I have been here – set pieces and ugly games, they are the things we had to improve on,” he told The Bolton News. “This season it feels like we can do both things. That is important.”

Wanderers collect fines for various training ground misdemeanours, which usually go towards a treat for the coaching staff, but this season some friendly competition has been created with the players offered a chance to get some of their hard-earned cash back.

And Santos is delighted to say the six league goals scored from set pieces, have given Wanderers a new string to their bow.

“I think he is down a lot of money at the moment,” he grinned. “It is always nice to score one, and every time one goes in we look over and you can tell he’s upset underneath.

“With the money going in from the goals we are scoring, we can probably go to Paris or something now.

“Obviously they are a big thing. At the start of the season we said it was something we really had to work on because they can be really important in this league.

“The boys have drilled that detail in. I have had a couple now.

“It isn’t what we have always done. We want to play a pretty game and play people off the park but the conditions might not be good, you sometimes have to adapt.

“Sometimes you have to play for second balls, put the ball down the channel, do the ugly side of the game well and then you know they will eventually tire and we can open them up.”

Along with the set pieces, Santos has seen team spirit galvanised in the last few months, with new arrivals like Will Forrester, Paris Maghoma, Carlos Mendes Gomes and Josh Dacres-Cogley knitting together quickly.

“There are players that are disappointed they are not starting but the togetherness in the squad is top gear – that is the biggest thing for me,” he said.

“We work hard, the gaffer has been working us hard on the training ground, especially on those set pieces, and it is all coming good.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves but we will focus on the next one on Saturday now and try to win that.”

With doubts over Gethin Jones’s fitness, Will Forrester could get a chance to start against Blackpool on Saturday and Santos has not hesitation backing the former Port Vale youngster to rise to the challenge.

“Will has been unbelievable,” he said. “It is tough for him because Geth has been good, so has Toally, so competition at centre-back is difficult but he works really hard every day and when he gets the chance he always does well. He’s a good player.”

Since coming back from a hamstring injury on October 21, Santos has been on the winning side in five successive games in league and cup. Bolton have not put six together since February 2021, in their memorable scramble up the League Two table to promotion.

The big defender is once again turning heads but he says the defensive focus which has spread right across the team in the last few weeks, resulting in three straight clean sheets since the second-half goals conceded at Wycombe, has been a united effort.

“It comes from the gaffer. He always says that when someone has a spell, stay calm, reset. That is what we have been doing and it has brought confidence,” he said.

“We’ll always try and play out from the back but if things are not going our way then we’ll change it.

“For some reason, each time I come back from a little time out with an injury I feel stronger, I don’t know why. I didn’t think I played too well there but we got the clean sheet and that is the only thing that matters, really.

“That is my job – and I take pride in it, but it is a whole team thing. It starts with the boys up front pressing and closing people down.”

Santos has grown accustomed to marking strikers of different shapes and sizes – and has dealt with everything from Charlton’s livewire Alfie May to Solihull’s grizzled target man Mark Beck in the last few weeks.

Asked for his preference after the win at Shrewsbury, he added: “Do I enjoy it? No, not really. I’d rather it have been an easy one.

“You know when you go to Shrewsbury that they will put it on you. We were ready and prepared for it.

“Udoh was a tough guy and then Mata, who they brought on, man, he was even tougher. I enjoy it, truly, and the way we play the gaffer leaves me on my own at the back so I have to keep battling.

“We know Saturday against Blackpool will be another tough one. We are confident, we are playing well, but we won’t take anything away from them because we know they are a good side.

“There is no complacency in this squad but we’ll work hard, prepare and if we do that, I think we can win.”