THE last time Wanderers rattled seven goals past their opponents in a league game, they left the travelling commentator in tears.

Poor old Stuart Mac, who had been covering the game for Wiltshire Sound, couldn’t bring himself to list the Bolton scorers at Burnden Park back in March 1997 – and ended up blubbing live on air. At least he got a guest slot on the Big Breakfast a week later to cheer him up.

There were tears on this occasion, too. Big Dan Nlundulu couldn’t contain his emotions as he walked off the pitch having scored his first league goal of the campaign – Bolton’s seventh of a memorable day.

It was a moment of pure redemption for a striker who has been desperate to make an impact since his move from Southampton in the summer, and his embrace with manager Ian Evatt at the final whistle summed up the bonds forging in a season now threatening to become a runaway success.

Colin Todd’s free-scoring all-conquering team that bid farewell to Burnden in the best way possible may never be eclipsed for pure entertainment. But Evatt’s bunch are doing their best to bring that same razmataz, creating heroes as they go. And whisper it quietly but this, the biggest win since the move, actually put Wanderers on track for the fabled 100 points and 100 goals.

Those flights of fancy aside, Wanderers do have an air of confidence about them which is making believers out of even the most cynical follower.

They face two of the sternest possible tests at Oxford United and Portsmouth in their next two outings in League One but after returning to the top of the table for the first time since August, they make those trips with belief rather than trepidation.

Exeter were browbeaten even before they arrived, without a win since September their shallow squad had been hit by injuries, forcing Gary Caldwell to play centre-back Cheick Diabate as an emergency striker.

The plan failed spectacularly, and though Caldwell tried to spare Diabate’s blushes after the game, his grasp on the striker’s role looked non-existent, giving Ricardo Santos his easiest 90 minutes all season.

But for a 25-minute spell at the very start of the game, where the Grecians tried to pack their penalty box and cut the supply to Josh Dacres-Cogley down the right, this was the most one-sided competitive game that Bolton have played in recent memory.

Due credit should be given to the men in white for making it so, too, as once they had found some rhythm in their passing game some of the football on show was as compelling as you could ever wish to see.

Paris Maghoma danced and skipped with the ball through midfield like he was in a West End dance troupe. Since his scoring return from injury at Wycombe the on-loan Brentford midfielder has been untouchable, and it is little wonder that the fans are now serenading him at every opportunity.

As ever, George Thomason ripped through the hard work, leaving Josh Sheehan to glide around the middle of the park to tidy up any loose ends. Like Santos, the Wales international hardly had to break sweat, but his insistence on keeping the passing tempo high meant the flailing, gasping visitors had no chance to draw breath.

Jack Iredale had replaced Randell Williams on the left after the latter was struck down by tendonitis, and Exeter’s hope was that by pushing play towards the more-defensive Australian they could diffuse some of Bolton’s attacking threat.

Around the 34-minute mark, a swift interchange between Gethin Jones and Dacres-Cogley helped Dion Charles burst through on the right and his clipped cross was met by a towering header from Iredale at the far post. Back to the drawing board, Mr Caldwell.

From there, Exeter’s resistance was futile. Victor Adeboyejo grabbed the second before half time, served on a plate after a delicious corner routine from Sheehan and Charles which will cost Evatt a few more bob from his Christmas kitty.

The game was effectively won, but would we have another Northampton on our hands? Aside from the trophy game against Manchester United’s kids, Wanderers have tended to paw at wounded prey like cats messing with a ball of string. Did they have the requisite ruthlessness to establish a really commanding score-line? Well, yes, as it turned out.

Bolton were back in the ascendancy immediately and after Charles had got a lucky break on the edge of the box, Thomason took the ball and laid off for Maghoma to drive his fourth goal in seven games into the roof of the net.

Visiting keeper Viljami Sinisalo did his best to keep the score-line down but got little protection from those in front of him, including Wanderers old boy Will Aimson, who was enduring a horrific return.

The fourth arrived eight minutes later when Thomason, Dacres-Cogley and Jones knitted together a mesmeric move on the right side of the box before a low cross was swung in for Charles to get his name on the scoresheet.

You really can’t keep the Northern Ireland international down this season, and he soon added a 13th club goal to his tally when he hammered home the rebound after substitute Aaron Morley had found Iredale loitering at the far post again.

There was a time when the impact of Bolton’s substitutions was being analysed but in recent weeks the ‘second wave’ of players off the bench has been truly impressive. That renewed intent was evident in the closing stages of Saturday as home fans screamed for more goals.

Morley’s reliable right foot supplied a corner flicked on by one sub, Nlundulu, and then finished by another, Kyle Dempsey, to make it six.

Dempsey looked a man reborn after missing several games with a fracture in his back and his return to a squad already brimming with belief almost seems unfair on the rest of the division at this stage.

“We want seven,” demanded the home crowd. “We’ve got the ball,” chanted the 400-or-so Exeter fans periodically, before reverting to “we’ve lost the ball” once more. Football fans have always been good at finding moments of levity in the most desperate of situations.

Bolton did get their seventh, and in many ways, it was the highlight of the day. Nlundulu said after the game that it felt like he had scored the winner and he certainly celebrated with gusto.

Whilst true, the young striker had yet to fully find his feet at Wanderers since his summer move from Southampton, some of the judgements and comments directed his way in recent months have felt decidedly premature. Could this moment give him the spark? One can only hope so.

Even at seven, fans wanted eight. Santos got booed for checking a run on halfway instead of trying to drive forward deep into stoppage time, proving what a hard bunch we are to please at times.

But this is the team that seemingly thrives off being challenged, and one that now understands to pressures and expectations that come with representing Bolton Wanderers.

There will be more tears, for sure, in the weeks and months to come. It is looking more likely than ever, though, that this season’s story will can a happy ending.