Ian Evatt felt his side saved the best until last as they wrapped up 2023 with an assured victory at Fleetwood Town, writes Pete Oliver.
Wanderers eased to a 2-0 win at a rain and wind-lashed Highbury Stadium to finish the year in second place in League One.
And two years on from suffering a 3-0 loss at Fleetwood in similar conditions, Evatt hailed the nature of the win – a third in a row for his team – as their best yet this season.
“That was a proper performance. I'm so pleased with that,” said the Wanderers’ boss after second-half goals from top scorer Dion Charles and substitute Victor Adeboyejo gave Wanderers a seventh away of the season and left Fleetwood in the drop-zone.
“That was the best victory of the season in the circumstances. The weather, the storm, the pitch, was all against us really but I I thought we were so professional.
“I think we dominated both halves really, with the wind and against it. Obviously we were disappointed not to score in the first half but we stayed calm, stayed composed and did the business in the second-half.
“As an away performance goes that's a proper performance and that's us improving on the past. That's how we can judge ourselves, on how far we've come. We can look at other games where we've been here before in similar conditions and lost heavily. We've evolved and improved and I still think there's a lot more to come.”
A third win of the festive period – with a home game to come against Burton Albion on New Year’s Day – took Wanderers up to 48 points – just two behind Portsmouth with a game in hand on the leaders.
Defeat at Portsmouth earlier in the month – followed by a home loss to Bristol Rovers – briefly stalled the Whites’ momentum.
But they have responded superbly since to end the year on a high and put themselves in a great position to sustain a promotion challenge.
“I think, in general, it's been a good 2023, obviously with the Wembley win, getting to the play-offs last year and seeing us evolve again and improve this season,” Evatt told Wanderers TV.
“We know if we can replicate that in the second-half of this season then we have a great opportunity to get promotion and that's our aim and ambition. But there's a lot of football to be played and a lot of hard work to be done.
“We cannot think we've cracked it, we cannot think we've done it. This league is tough, it's unforgiving. People drop points left right and centre. We have dropped points as well when we shouldn't have and had some poor performances. We just need to focus on the next game and the next opportunity and that's Monday.
“The players have been brilliant. They have been away from their families, which is hard at this time of year, but they've really bought into the bigger picture and what we want to do for this football club and these fans and they are getting their rewards from it. I'm so proud of how they went about their work tonight.”
Defender Jack Iredale missed the game after an issue with the knee that he injured last season but Evatt confirmed scans had shown no fresh damage in a further bit of good news to take into the New Year.
Watch the manager's full post-match interview on Wanderers TV HERE