AFTER negotiating choppy waters of two tricky cup ties, Eoin Toal is happy to go “full steam ahead” for Portsmouth on Monday night.

Captain for the day in the 2-0 win against Port Vale, the Northern Irish defender admitted the televised top-of-the-table clash had been in the back of players’ minds since they left Oxford United with a well-deserved point on November 28.

Pompey pulled back ahead with a win against Northampton Town, which means nothing less than victory will be enough for Ian Evatt’s side to return to the summit.

But Toal believes the team has done itself no harm with the way they despatched Harrogate and Vale to make sure the winning mood continues.

“We have kept one eye on the Portsmouth game but the manager really drilled it into us how important the cups were – we knew it as well and I think we put in two really professional performances,” he said.

“We played well on Saturday, got the win against Port Vale, did what we needed to do, and that will all stand us in good stead going down there now because we have kept up a winning run.

“We’d parked the bus a bit in the league but it is time to get it going again now, full steam ahead.

“It will be a tough game, it certainly was last season. There is always a good atmosphere down there but we’ll focus on ourselves and try to win the game.

“We’re playing really well at the moment. We’re on a good run and we want to keep it going.”

Toal described his role as acting captain on Tuesday night as a “great moment” and has seen his career blossom in the past 12 months.

From cutting his teeth in the Papa Johns Trophy at this stage last season, he is now a fully fledged international player for Northern Ireland, earning caps against Slovenia, Finland and Denmark in the past couple of months.

The latest qualifier, a 2-0 win against Denmark at Windsor Park, was especially pleasing for the former Armagh and Derry City man.

“I’m always proud to represent my country,” he said. “The first result wasn’t so good but the second one we did really well to beat Denmark, who are a top side. To come back to the club after that it is great to continue winning games.

“Playing against that sort of quality will help me, I think. My debut was against two top class strikers in Europe as well, so hopefully I can take that experience and take it into my club form.”

Looking back 12 months, Toal had only just made his league debut for Wanderers against Bristol Rovers after Ricardo Santos was taken ill. His main experience to that point had been in the much-derided Papa Johns Trophy, now sponsored by Bristol Street Motors.

Only 2,500 fans braved the bitter cold on Tuesday night to see Bolton take their place in the last 16 – or the last eight of the northern half of the draw.

But he is a fan of the competition which gave him his big break at Wanderers, and would love to see the club back in the final in April to have another crack at lifting the trophy.

He said: “It has been a mad ride hasn’t it? When I first came over I got my first taste of football with Bolton in this competition and continued playing, getting used to the style, and it was a real help to me. We ended up winning it, so it was fantastic, a great day at Wembley.

“To get back there would mean a lot. There are some new faces in the squad who didn’t experience that great day out for everyone at the club.

“And we’re trying to win every single game, it doesn’t matter which trophy it is in. Hopefully we can get a decent draw now in the next round and then take it from there.”

Reminded that his day at Wembley finished with him wearing a protective boot on an ankle injury after a terrible challenge from Plymouth’s Sam Cosgrove, Toal added with a smile: “Well, OK, it wasn’t as good a day for me, then, but overall it was great for me to win a trophy in my first season in England.”

Wanderers’ win against Vale proved a straightforward one in the end, thanks to goals from Dion Charles and Carlos Mendes Gomes, and Toal felt it summed up the overall mood in the dressing room.

“I think it was a really professional performance from us,” he said. “We could have probably come in further ahead in the first half but we played well. Second half it was a great goal, so then we could see the result out.

“We are confident, we feel like we can win any game in any competition at the moment, so long may that continue.”