Wanderers suffered a first home defeat since early January with Exeter City recording a come from behind victory at the University of Bolton Stadium.
Wanderers broke forward through captain Antoni Sarcevic in the early stages of the game, with the ball finding its way into the path of Declan John on the left. The defender crossed the ball across the face of goal with the ball ultimately cleared for a corner.
At the other end, Matt Jay saw his shot blocked by Ricardo Almeida Santos who went down and received some treatment as a result of some brave defending.
Sarcevic was in the thick of the action once again and he saw a shot charged down as he latched on to a headed flick-on from Eoin Doyle.
Wanderers were on top and Alex Baptiste’s shot from distance took a deflection for a corner after he was played in by Declan John.
The hosts took the lead after 16 minutes thanks to Gethin Jones’s third goal for the season to put Wanderers on course for victory and promotion.
The Welshman placed an emphatic low drive beyond Jokull Andresson after running onto Sarcevic’s pass. Almeida Santos’ perfectly weighted long pass set up the move as Doyle carved open the Exeter defence.
The hard-working Lloyd Isgrove was taken down on the edge of the box by Alex Hartridge, a foul for which saw the defender brandished with a yellow card.
From the resulting free-kick, Andresson tipped away John’s effort, with the Welshman coming close to doubling the lead.
Almeida Santos powered Isgrove’s resulting corner just over the bar after he jumped above Key to reach the ball.
Jay’s clever pass found Jake Taylor but the midfielder's strike was blocked by Gilks with the ball eventually being cleared.
Baptiste was shown a yellow as his foul presented the Grecian’s with a good chance just outside the edge of the box.
Jay’s free-kick thundered against the wall before the ball was sent upfield through some clever build up play. John cut in from the right before firing a low left-footed effort wide of goal.
The visitors had a good chance just after the half-hour mark but Taylor dragged his effort wide when in a promising position on the edge of the box.
Defender Pierce Sweeney volleyed over the Wanderers bar when he connected with Robbie Willmott’s delivery.
Gilks dived to his left to keep out Taylor’s shot as the forward charged into a pocket of space.
Ryan Bowman beat the offside trap whilst under pressure from Almeida Santos but he sliced his shot high and wide.
Isgrove saw his low shot deflect for a corner as Wanderers looked to extend their lead early in the second half.
Exeter broke away with Key getting in behind but his cross went across the face of goal with Jay’s touch ensuring the ball went out for a throw.
The visitors levelled on 49 minutes through Randell Williams whose low shot flew past Gilks and into the bottom corner.
Bowman scuffed a shot straight into the hands of Gilks as the visitors worked an opening.
Wanderers raced upfield and played the ball over to Dapo Afolayan with the midfielder seeing his cross deflect for a corner.
Doyle got on the end of a left-sided Isgrove cross but his header went just wide of goal.
A goalmouth melee culminated in Doyle’s drive being blocked after MJ Williams had put the ball into danger.
Wanderers made a double substitution on the hour mark with George Thomason and Arthur Gnahouha coming on for Sarcevic and Isgrove.
Bowman’s header from Williams’ cross went wide of goal with Exeter getting forward at every opportunity.
The visitors had a good chance to take the lead but Jay placed his effort wide after being put in.
Thomasson intercepted the ball high up the pitch and played Doyle through but the Irishman’s curling effort from 25 yards went narrowly wide of goal.
Jones blocked a Jay strike from close range at the expense of a corner.
Wanderers made another change after 73 minutes when Nathan Delfouneso came on for Kieran Lee.
Almeida Santos conceded a free-kick right on the edge of the box with Jay just firing over the bar.
With four minutes remaining Miller came on for Afolayan as Wanderers desperately searched for a winner.
But, it was Exeter who got the winner deep into added time with Sweeney heading home at the far post. Wanderers' hunt for promotion goes to the wire.
Bolton Wanderers: Gilks, Jones, Almeida Santos, Baptiste, John, Williams, Lee (Delfouneso 74), Sarcevic (Thomason 62), Isgrove (Gnahoua 62), Afolayan (Miller 85), Doyle.
Unused Subs: Jensen, Jackson, Tutte.
Goal: Jones (15)
Exeter City: Andresson, Key (Fisher 86), Sweeney, Hartridge, Page (Sparkes 63), Williams (Caprice 86), Taylor (Seymour 81), Collins, Willmott (Atangana 63), Jay, Bowman.
Unused Subs: Maxted, McArdle.
Goals: Williams (49), Sweeney (90+6)