Craig Gardner’s second-half strike denied Wanderers victory against Premier League outfit Sunderland in an entertaining FA Cup third round tie at the Reebok.
Chung-Yong Lee capitilised on an error from Carlos Cuellar to give the Whites a first-half lead, after the Spaniards wayward pass was struck first time into the empty net by the Korean international.
Marvin Sordell doubled the Trotter’s lead three minutes after the restart, before substitute Connor Wickham pulled one back for the Black Cats despite the heroics of Andy Lonergan.
But Gardner’s superb 20-yard strike after 75 minutes ensured the two teams will lock horns again in a reply later this month.
Wanderers named six changes from the New Year’s Day defeat to Leeds United. Andy Lonergan, Joe Riley, Sam Ricketts, Martin Petrov, Marvin Sordell and David Ngog all return to the starting line-up, while Adam Bogdan, Tyrone Mears, Tim Ream, Chris Eagles, Jay Spearing and Kevin Davies made way.
The Whites, who adopted a 4-4-2 formation, started brightly and almost broke the deadlock inside the opening five minutes, but Petrov’s curling cross was headed narrowly wide by Ngog.
But the home crowd were soon celebrating the opening goal after 11 minutes. Good pressure from Sordell forced a mistake out of Cuellar as his attempted pass across the area was intercepted by Lee and his first-time shot found it’s way past the scrambling Simon Mignolet.
The Premier League side responded soon after. First, Phil Bardsley saw his 20-yard volley go over the bar before Craig Gardner’s strike on the edge of the Bolton area was superbly blocked by a sliding Sam Ricketts.
Sunderland were the team in the ascendency, and Adam Johnson’s free-kick had to be acrobatically cleared by Andy Lonergan to deny James McClean a free header from three yards.
Freedman was forced into an early substitute as Riley, who was making his second appearance of the season, was replaced by Mears after sustaining a foot injury.
The Black Cats pushed for an equaliser before the break, but Steven Fletcher’s header from a Sebastian Larsson corner went narrowly over the bar as the Whites maintain their advantage going into the break.
Wanderers doubled their lead soon after the restart. Lee’s short corner was swung into the box by Petrov and was initially cleared by Mignolet but straight to Keith Andrews whose header found the back peddling Sordell who flicked the ball into the net.
The heroics of Lonergan denied Sunderland an immediate reply. Adam Johnson’s cross was met by the dangerous Fletcher who had thought he had got the visitors back into the game, but was denied superbly by the leaping Bolton stopper.
Lonergan again denied the Scotland international minutes later, acrobatically tipping his header over the bar, but the Black Cats finally found a way past the in-from keeper minutes later.
Wanderers failed to deal with Larsson’s corner after Zat Knight had brilliantly blocked Fletcher’s first attempt, the ball fell to substitute Connor Wickham who smashed the ball into the back of the Bolton net.
Sunderland, now with a new belief of salvaging a result, continued to push forward and Larsson’s free-kick was well saved by Lonergan and Johnson could only fire the rebound over the top.
Bolton almost regained their two goal advantage moments later as Petrov cut in from the right wing and put in a curling effort, but it went wide of the visitor’s far post.
The Black Cats were dominating possession and found their equaliser in the 75th minute. Larsson's cross was headed clear, but only to Gardner who struck a furious strike into the top left-hand corner.
Martin O’Neill’s side were inches away from stealing victory in the games closing stages. Larsson's deflected cross was destined for the far corner, but Mears managed to hook the ball clear off the line.
Sunderland were throwing everything at the Trotters, with Wickham going close again with a glancing header. Wanderers responded through a long-range Petrov strike, but the scores remained level at the Reebok.
Wanderers: Lonergan, Riley (Mears 35), Knight, Ricketts, Alonso, Chung-Yong, Andrews, Pratley, Petrov, Ngog (Eagles 81), Sordell (K Davies 64) (Unused subs: Bogdan, Ream, Spearing, Lester)
Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, Rose (Colback 20), Larsson, Gardner, Vaughan, Bramble, Johnson, McClean, Cuellar (Wickham 57), Fletcher (Unused subs: Westwood, Campbell, McFadden, Kilgallon)