GARY Madine could quite get used to playing the good guy after delivering another match-winning performance for Wanderers.

After 74 minutes of turgid football, we were all set for another exhausting inquest into the Whites’ Championship calibre.

But then a potentially defining moment in the campaign arrived when David Wheater’s header was handled by Sol Bamba, and the reborn striker stepped up to slam home his seventh goal of the season from the penalty spot – turning the game from a total turkey into a festive treat.

Madine later turned provider for Josh Vela to score his first goal since March, capping off a very impressive response from a team which had been derided for their performance on the same pitch against Burton Albion a week before.

He jogged off the field in injury time to a standing ovation – home fans ribbing their Welsh visitors with a recital of the national anthem which could very easily have been re-worded “God Save Madine.”

Thus ended a week in which the 27-year-old forked out for presents for poorly children at Bolton Hospital and Derian House as penance for an off-the-field indiscretion in November which threatened to undo his hard work.

Welcome to the disparate world of a player enjoying his best season in a Bolton shirt.

“It was nice to be in the paper for something positive,” he said of his Christmas visit to the children’s ward. “It’s the person I can be, not always the one you read about. It was nice to see smiles on the kids’ faces, the ones who are in hospital over Christmas, it’s not nice. I couldn’t imagine what their parents are going through.

“If it makes things better for a minute I’d be happy to do it every week. But I didn’t enjoy the shopping with Emma (Norris – one of Wanderers’ media team).

“Women can drag out a simple shopping trip, I can tell you.”

Madine has more backers than doubters these days, yet had the final 15 minutes worked out differently would probably have been harangued for another fruitless afternoon.

Pressure had built on the outcome of this game – not just from the Burton defeat but also the pointed words of chairman Ken Anderson, who seemed to take aim at the club’s recruitment policy in a website column which cannot have done Phil Parkinson any favours.

Defeat against the Bluebirds, however high they may reside in the table, would have left the Bolton boss facing some awkward questions.

Neil Warnock’s men were predictably bullish but at no point in the afternoon did they play football worthy of a Premier League team in waiting. The veteran boss had taken umbrage at Parkinson’s claim Wolves would walk the title by a country mile, yet there was no evidence to suggest anything different here.

Darren Pratley – an ex-Swansea man – and Karl Henry were in their element niggling and biting at ankles in midfield, while the back four were exemplary through the whole afternoon.

Ex-Bluebirds man Andy Taylor had returned at left-back, providing a calm assuredness, while Mark Little hardly missed a beat on the right, albeit in a more defensive frame of mind.

Cardiff got the ball in the back of the net once, foiled by a horribly late flag for offside against Junior Hoilett. Other than that, the first half was a stalemate of epic proportions.

Sammy Ameobi once again looked the best shot Wanderers had to steal a goal and break the deadlock but in truth the winger’s most admirable work was in defence, chasing back with the kind of enthusiasm which tends to accompany a meeting with your former club.

We wondered whether the absence of another ex-Cardiff loanee Adam Le Fondre would be the major talking point once again until Darren Bond pointed to the spot for Bamba’s handball.

Madine exuded confidence from the moment he grabbed the ball, driving it low to Neil Etheridge’s right to wake what had been a fairly sedate crowd.

Warnock’s side have had a terrific season and bullied teams with their high-tempo physical football but on this occasion they met their match.

After opening the scoring there was only one side going to score the game’s second, and it came from more good work by Madine who, after exchanging passes with sub Craig Noone, cut an unselfish pass back to Vela to sweep home.

Moments like that make you wonder why it was so difficult against Burton – although a trip to Middlesbrough instantly looks a different prospect now that the Teesiders have sacked manager Garry Monk.

“It was important to bounce back from the last two results,” Madine added.

“We got stick from the fans last week, had 15 shots but got booed off. Hopefully that’s a little Christmas present for them.

“We’re supposedly favourites to go down, Cardiff are one of the favourites to go up. I thought we gave a very good account of ourselves and deserved to win.

“I heard stuff from the Burton assistant manager last week saying the Bolton fans helped them win the game – and it’s not stuff we want to hear. We don’t want people saying that.

“When the Bolton fans are behind us, we feel like we can go and beat anyone.”