Greeted back into the dressing room with a round of applause from his team-mates, you would have been hard-pressed to find a more popular scorer than Dan Nlundulu in Saturday’s deluge against Exeter City.

Though he spent just 20 minutes on the pitch, the former Southampton striker managed to create a goal for fellow substitute Kyle Dempsey, then grab one himself in stoppage time.

Nlundulu had scored a couple in another rout against Manchester United’s Under-21s, watched by only a fraction of the crowd that saw him leap for joy after betting Bolton’s seventh against the Grecians.

For a young man who has been desperate to see his Wanderers career get lift-off, it felt like a defining moment, and every player wearing white knew it.

“Honestly, words can’t describe what that goal meant – it felt like I had scored the winner,” grinned Nlundulu after the game.

“Yeah, I have been waiting for it. I am one of those players who needs an arm around me, and I have to thank the gaffer, he has done that since the start of the season. He has never lost belief in me.

“He always says: ‘Forget the outside noise, Dan, as long as I still believe in you then you are alright,’ and that gives me some peace of mind.

“I am trying to play with that now, ignore the noise, and I was happy to get a goal and an assist.”

That Bolton paid a six-figure fee for Nlundulu’s services in the summer after last season’s loan spell ensured there would be pressure on him to perform.

Evatt had likened his football journey to that of Ivan Toney, whose early days at Newcastle United were spent being loaned from pillar to post, picking up football experience without ever really laying down roots.

The comparison may not have done him any favours, for many Bolton’s expectant fanbase have expected more than the 24-year-old has yet been able to show.

Existing in that pressure is something Nlundulu knows he has to do – but there has been an element of the criticism that cut deep.

“Listen, I am 24 years old, I have social media, so I see everything,” he said. “Does it affect me? Yes. I am not going to lie to you. It isn’t always nice. But it is the industry I chose to be in, and that’s it.

“All I have got to care about is the togetherness we have as a team and the belief that the manager has got in me. It is an opinion sport, fans can have their opinion, and it is what it is. It gives me some motivation to go out there and prove them wrong.

“I just thank my team-mates as well because they have always helped me. They can see what I do on the training ground, how I can play, so this is a good day.”

Faith plays a big part in Nlundulu’s life and just as former Wanderers defender Radhi Jaidi played a prominent role in his early development at St Mary’s, so the encouragement of his current manager has been of huge solace in the more difficult moments.

“The gaffer has been exceptional,” he said. “I couldn’t wish for someone better right now.

“I have to believe in myself, and I do, but it is nice when someone else sees something in you. He sees it even though I have been through a rough time.

“It has been tough, but I have a strong faith in God, in Jesus Christ, and that helps to ground me.

“I have a great team who support me, so whatever happens inside, happens.”

Nlundulu’s goal was celebrated enthusiastically by his team-mates, who had probably latched on to his need for ‘a moment’ in a Wanderers shirt.

The young forward says he has been fortunate to get such support from within the club.

“I have never been in a changing room like it,” he said. “We are good footballers but I think we are good human beings as well. That starts from the top and down to the gaffer, who has created that environment for us as well. We try and take that on to the pitch too. It is a good place to be.

“You can see in the celebration, the team reaction, we are in this together. They knew how much it meant to me.

“There are things that happen, stuff that people don’t see when we are in training, and individually scoring for this club is everything. It means everything to me.

“When I went into the changing room they were clapping me and I thank them all, it is a good thing, but tomorrow is a new day. Hopefully we can bring it again.”

Wanderers jumped to the top of League One and now face Oxford United, who dropped out of the automatic spots by virtue of their defeat against Cheltenham, on Tuesday night.

Nlundulu is ready to play his part, whether that is from the start or off the bench, and he feels the margin of victory against Exeter will have sent out a message to the U’s, and everyone else in League One, that the Whites mean business.

“Football is confidence,” he said. “If you are confident you can do things that you didn’t even know you could do.

“But I know that the moment is gone now, tomorrow is another day, and it means I have to bring a performance out again on Tuesday, we all do, and win the game.

“You can see the depth in this squad. He has a good problem, you can see even on the bench, when we come on, we can change games.

“We are top now and this is where the hard work begins for us. How do we stay there now? We have to be aggressive, get basics right, do all that hard work on the training ground.

“We want people to read that score and bring out the fear. But we have to stay humble, just keep doing it.”