Wanderers were cruelly denied a share of the spoils against league leaders Middlesbrough as they suffered a late defeat to the Teessiders at Macron Stadium on Saturday lunchtime.
Following a goalless first half, Wanderers proceeded to take the lead through Josh Vela who drilled home from halfway inside the box after collecting Emile Heskey’s lay-off.
Jordan Rhodes has the visitors back on level terms with 18 minutes of the game to go however, slotting home from close range while the striker snatched all three points for the Teessiders on the stroke of full time when nodding home at the far post.
There were three changes for Wanderers with Emile Heskey, Niall Maher and Mark Davies replacing Kaiyne Woolery, Neil Danns and Liam Trotter.
Amongst the Bolton substitutes meanwhile, Oscar Threlkeld was back in the matchday squad having returned from his loan spell at Plymouth Argyle.
At a sun-drenched Macron Stadium, proceedings got underway with Boro looking lively from the off, backed by a sell-out away contingent of over 4,000 supporters from the North East.
For all their possession though, the visitors failed to cause any real problems for the Bolton defence inside the opening ten minutes with Ben Amos comfortably dealing with anything coming his way.
The best chance of the game so far came in the 14th minute when Albert Adomah whipped a dangerous ball across goal with Adam Clayton’s far post header flying narrowly wide of the mark.
Finding themselves under pressure, Wanderers needed to be on their guard as Boro’s confidence grew with each passing attack downfield.
They looked to have broken the deadlock halfway through the first period when Stewart Downing unleashed from distance, but the former England international’s effort crashed against the underside of the crossbar, onto the goal line and out, much to the Teessiders’ dismay.
An entertaining clash in front of the Sky television cameras, it fell into an end-to-end encounter inside the closing stages of the opening 45 as Bolton looked to imprint their own mark on the game.
A mazy run from Zach Clough with ten minutes before the break breathed excitement into the home faithful, with the little man being eventually denied by Dimi Konstantopoulos after fending off the challenge of a number of Boro defenders.
Visibly boosted by their close call, Clough came within inches of breaking the deadlock yet again shortly after when seeing his lofted effort from six yards bounce onto the roof of Boro’s net.
Up the other end meanwhile, Clayton and Rhodes almost combined perfectly only for the latter’s header to be saved by Amos as the half ended goalless.
With no changes, the second half got underway with the visitors attacking towards their vocal and large travelling contingent.
And it was Boro who looked the more likely of the sides early on with Adomah causing problems for the Whites inside the opening five minutes of the second period while Emilio Nsue went down in the area under the challenge of Darren Pratley.
As the game settled though, Bolton were also getting in the mix with the Boro defence having to keep tabs on Clough in particular as the academy graduate made a nuisance of himself alongside Heskey.
Wanderers were more than holding their own in the game, with Aitor Karanka throwing loanee Gaston Ramirez into the mix just short of the hour mark in a bid to force a way through what was proving to be a stubborn Bolton rear-guard.
Just a matter of minutes later however, the Whites had the lead through Vela who drilled home for his second goal of the season after collecting Heskey’s lay-off to put smiles of delight on the faces of the home faithful.
Deserved on Wanderers’ part, it was just the tonic needed and had Boro visibly on the ropes as they attempted to force their way back into the match.
With 20 minutes remaining, Jimmy Phillips made his first change by replacing Heskey with Liam Trotter, with the towering midfielder unusually slotting into the mix upfront.
The visitors were level with 18 minutes of the game remaining though, with Rhodes tapping home the rebound after David Wheater was unable to fully clear the ball away from danger after blocking an initial effort.
A goal which certainly opened the game up, substitute Ramirez looked set to put Boro in front five minutes later after connecting with Ritchie De Laet’s cross-goal ball, but the Uruguayan somehow put his effort over from a matter of yards out.
Wanderers were left calling for a penalty kick meanwhile moments later following Davies’ mazy run into the box, but referee Keith Stroud waved away the Trotters’ claims.
It was all Middlesbrough though as the match entered its final ten minutes with the visitors eager to cement their place at the top of the league standings.
Bolton were being forced to defend in their numbers with everybody bar Clough back inside the box, while Rhodes came agonisingly close to doubling his own tally only to put his header at the far post somehow wide.
With five minutes of additional time indicated, Boro threw men forward and were eventually rewarded as Rhodes nodded the ball home at the far post in a crowded penalty area.
Cruel on the Whites, there was unfortunately little time left to respond with them ultimately leaving the game empty handed come the final whistle.