WHETHER you coached him on the pitch, watched him from the stands, or just penned the occasional missive in the local newspaper, you could not help but feel some pride when George Thomason’s winning blast hit the back of the net against Blackpool.

Wanderers’ constant reinvention and progression under Ian Evatt over the last four seasons has meant an inevitable churn of players – 76 of them have featured, to be exact – and often that has meant there is little time in which to become attached.

Thomason, though, along with Ricardo Santos and Gethin Jones, has been a constant. A raw talent at times, perhaps, but the player who has made the most significant gains and who is now looking every inch a young man who should be playing at the top end of League One.

From the wiry teenager plucked from the North West Counties League who had been working in a corner shop while he studied, Thomason has become a brawny captain-in-waiting, and one who nearly tore the net from the frame in the second half.

That it all happened against a club who released him at the age of 16 just added another layer to what is rapidly becoming Bolton and Evatt’s biggest success story.

This has been a season in which Thomason turned down a million-pound move to the Championship and become automatic starter in the Wanderers midfield. In being leaned upon harder than ever by his manager and his team, a real talent is now starting to blossom in a team which is also starting to show its true colours.

Through the last few months, even victories have passed by with an asterisk. Though the Whites had been winning games, they had not necessarily been winning them the ‘right way’ and the pragmatic view was that bigger tests in this division would eventually show Evatt’s side was short of the requisite quality and character to make the top two.

But Thomason’s second-half thunderbolt, and the fourth consecutive clean sheet that followed, sent a message to the doubters – to the whole of League One, in fact, – that this Bolton team is very much an automatic promotion contender. Ninety-odd minutes against the funfair kings of Blackpool showed that there will be some thrills and spills to follow… but strap yourselves in and it will be worth the ride.

You simply cannot deny the humble, likable Thomason his moment, but there are many others in Evatt’s squad who are revelling in the chance to show they are good enough to claim a spot in the Championship, and perhaps even play their football at a higher level.

Santos, Jones and Eoin Toal kept a potent attack spearheaded by Bolton’s arch-nemesis, Jordan Rhodes, quiet for practically 90 minutes.

A singular first-half effort from Karamoko Dembele bounced off the post in Blackpool’s most productive spell of the game but otherwise they mustered no shots on target, regardless of the pressure they exerted on the Bolton goal.

By comparison, Wanderers had a few opportunities either side of Thomason’s goal which dropped to Victor Adeboyejo, Dion Charles and Randell Williams – who also clipped the outside of the woodwork with a free kick.

Blackpool look like a team who will be contesting a promotion place in May, and perhaps with the exception of Peterborough, no other team has taken the Whites on so convincingly. But whereas the visitors, cheered on by a huge 4,000-plus following, looked dangerous in the opening half an hour, Bolton’s resilience saw them through, and the final two thirds of the game were played more on their own terms.

The physical scars of Tuesday’s win at Shrewsbury were there to see. Josh Dacres-Cogley looked slightly jaded and Victor Adeboyejo struggled to match his excellent work-rate with his output on the ball. But even allowing for all that, this was one of Bolton’s most complete performances of the season.

The arrival of Jon Dadi Bodvarsson off the bench for Adeboyejo in the second half is also bound to spark debate through the international break.

The Icelander’s popularity among the Wanderers fans is well-known but there seems to have been a reticence on Evatt’s part to push him as a starter since the turn of the season.

Whether there are concerns over the 31-year-old’s fitness, or Adeboyejo’s non-stop graft has simply kept him ahead is unclear, but the touches of class Bodvarsson produced in his 20-odd minutes on the pitch has pushed his claim to start against Exeter City in the next home game.

It was Bodvarsson’s clever lay-off that presented Thomason with the biggest moment of his professional career to date, despatched past Danny Grimshaw with a delightful thud, proceeded by a roar that would have rattled the radio mast at Rivington Pike.

Though Bolton never looked like surrendering their lead, referee Ben Toner added an air of unpredictability to the game that we could have done well without.

He dished out five yellow cards to Wanderers, and another to their manager, but went surprisingly easy on some of the more physical challenges made by Blackpool’s players.

That is not to say the visitors did not have cause for complaint too, as Neil Critchley claimed after the game that a handball from Thomason in the penalty box had not been spotted in the second half.

On balance of play, however, the Blackpool boss cannot have too many complaints. Even in four minutes of added time Bolton’s assuredness shone through, and if you need any convincing that this is a team effort, review the footage of videographer Marcus Harrison’s cheeky slight to visiting keeper Grimshaw when asked to return a ball that had run out of play. Classic.

The day belonged to Thomason, however, and given his journey from lockdown waif to a Lancashire derby match-winner, absolutely nobody could deny him that moment to shine.

It would be lovely to look back in May and think this was the moment it all started to click. Things are seldom that straightforward in these parts but this team and this manager seem to delight in turning narratives on their head.