WANDERERS have never had a year as packed with goals as 2023 - but we can only hope they have a few more presents left to deliver in December.

Safely into the quarter-finals of the Bristol Street Motors Trophy with designs on becoming the first club ever to defend the prize, goals from Dion Charles and Carlos Mendes Gomes took them to 106 for the calendar year, surpassing the previous high of 104 set in 1934.

Vale never make it easy, and their awkward, resilient approach never allowed the Whites to rest easily in their lead, even at 2-0.

But Ian Evatt’s side are made of pretty stern stuff these days, and even in a bitty, niggly encounter that was rarely pleasing on the eye, they simply had too much for their visitors.

Exactly three years ago to the day Vale somehow drove away from Bolton having inflicted a 6-3 defeat on Evatt’s embryonic side - one of the most puzzling games of football you could have ever wished to see.

This was decidedly more straightforward, and even if it felt like Wanderers had one eye on Portsmouth, there was too much attacking talent on show.

Wanderers made seven changes from the team which beat Harrogate in the FA Cup on Saturday, resting the likes of Ricardo Santos, Nathan Baxter and Gethin Jones entirely and bringing Zac Ashworth in for his first start since the Carabao Cup game against Middlesbrough at the end of August.

The first half belonged almost exclusively to Bolton. With a touch more conviction in front of goal they could have ended the game as a contest by half time.

Charles opened the scoring on nine minutes, a simple finish laid on by Kyle Dempsey who had burst into Vale territory after some good hold-up play from Victor Adeboyejo.

It was unselfish work from the midfielder - and thoroughly warranted on that occasion - but Bolton’s tendency to pass rather than have a pop at goal became somewhat of a frustration in the minutes that followed.

Vale had a nibble at the Bolton goal when a long throw from the right was allowed to bounce in the box and Ryan Loft headed on to the roof of Coleman’s net.

It proved a rather isolated incident, however, and Wanderers should really have got themselves further in front after carving out a succession of decent chances before the break.

Charles aimed a couple of efforts too close to Jayson Leuitweiler and both Dempsey and Josh Dacres-Cogley raced into open spaces on the edge of the box, only to waste their final pass.

There was one nervous moment for Coleman after he spilled a bouncing cross from the right and then had to dab the ball from under the feet of Tom Conlon - the Vale man crashing to the ground and appealing for a penalty. Thankfully, referee Matt Corlett felt the contact was minimal.

Things slowed to a crawl by half time, which is unlikely to have pleased manager Evatt, but the triple substitution of central midfielders made at the interval felt pre-determined, with a view to keeping everyone fresh for Fratton Park.

Vale shouldn’t have been in the game, by rights, but they emerged with renewed purpose at the start of the second half and very nearly forced themselves level.

Uche Ikpeazu brought two saves out of Coleman, one at the near post with a stinging shot, the other with a header flicked nervously over the top. The ensuing cavalcade of corners and long throws only served to increase a feeling of discomfort.

The midfield switches started to have some impact around the hour mark. Gomes got into an excellent position on the left side of the area and tried to cut a cross back to Charles, only for Alex Iacovitti to make an important challenge.

Just three minutes later, Bolton produced their best football of the game, three lightning quick passes between Charles and Adeboyejo to send Mendes Gomes through the middle and his calm finish gave the Whites a little more comfort.

“Que Sera, sera” sang the smattering of fans in the East Stand who had braved a chilly night. Just like last season it had felt a long, long way from Wembley in the early rounds, surrounded by unpopulated stands, but with a place in the last eight now almost within their grasp it suddenly seemed real.

Mendes Gomes looked in the mood and nearly played an audacious backheel through for fellow sub Dan Nlundulu with 15 minutes to go.

He was also involved in a fine move down the right, with Dacres-Cogley driving into the penalty box and skipping a low cross into the penalty box with nobody able to get a killer touch.

There was still time for a spot of drama as sub Cameron Jerome was tripped by Iacovitti for a penalty - picking himself up to stroke what he thought was his sixth goal of the season.

Suddenly the referee’s assistant, Callum Jones, requested an audience with referee Corlett, who ordered that the penalty be retaken - potentially for encroachment.

This time, Leutweiler guessed right, blocking the shot with Nlundulu unable to stab in the rebound. Moments later the Bolton striker pulled up off the ball with a muscular injury, limping down the tunnel with all substitutions made.