Wanderers’ build-up hit a blip with defeat to Carlisle United at Brunton Park.
Aaron Morley scored from the penalty spot as Ian Evatt’s men looked to mount a second-half fightback.
But the Whites’ hopes of overcoming a two-goal deficit were swiftly ended by Kristian Dennis’ tap-in for the League Two side who enjoyed their afternoon in the sun.
Wanderers - winners at Championship side Watford in mid-week - gained less pleasure as they were made to pay for some sloppiness at the back and carelessness in possession.
But as a work-out a fortnight away from the real thing in League One this was another valuable 90 minutes with some decent passages of play going forward and competitive game-time for most of the squad a week before Wanderers’ final friendly at home to Huddersfield Town next Saturday.
Gethin Jones missed a return to his former club with a minor knock that isn’t expected to keep the defender out for much more of the Whites’ build-up.
But there was still a strong ex-Carlisle presence in Wanderers’ starting line-up, with Kyle Dempsey and Jack Iredale returning to Brunton Park, where Whites’ keeper James Trafford also started as a schoolboy.
Trafford wasn’t initially over-worked but was beaten 18 minutes in when Carlisle took the lead.
Wanderers consistently looked to play their way out from the back but when Ricardo Santos under-cooked an intended pass for Demsey, Owen Moxon nipped in and released Ryan Edmondson to calmly slot home.
That came after Wanderers had made a bright start without really testing Carlisle keeper Tomas Holy.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson nearly got in in the opening minutes with an intervention from defender Morgan Feeney resulting in an injury for the Blues’ defender which swiftly ended his afternoon.
The eye-catching Conor Bradley made a couple of trademark runs down Wanderers’ right side and saw an effort blocked at the end of one of them, while Declan John also saw a shot canon into a defender when he got forward on the opposite flank.
The nearest Wanderers’ came to an equaliser saw George Thomason – a scorer here in a 3-3 Boxing Day draw in 2020 – steer a shot just wide after being picked out by Morley’s corner.
But any suggestion of a fightback was delayed when Carlisle doubled their lead seven minutes before half time.
Wanderers hadn’t looked rock-solid in the face of some decent counter-attacking from the home side and when Jon Mellish kept things alive following a corner, his drive across goal was headed in at the far post by a diving Ben Barclay.
The Whites needed to raise their game and made the perfect start to the second half when they halved the deficit from the penalty spot five minutes in.
Good hold-up play and a pass from Bodvarsson released Dempsey to get into the box and when he was tripped by Brennan Dickenson, Morley took the responsibility to convert from 12 yards with neat placement into the bottom corner.
That should have been a platform to build on but within 60 seconds the Whites conceded again with another poor goal.
This time Will Aimson was dispossessed and after Wanderers failed to take the chance to repair the damage - Bradley's attempted clearance bouncing back off Ricardo Santos - Dennis bundled the ball over the line.
It was commited stuff and Bodvarsson forced Holy into a save before nodding down an Iredale delivery for Elias Kachunga to try an overhead kick which the Carlisle keeper also had to keep out before Evatt made his first changes with an hour gone.
Amadou Bakayoko made a welcome return after missing the previous two games through injury and he was heavily involved as Wanderers pressed for the goal to get them back into the game before the Whites completed their substitutions with 20 minutes to go.
Wanderers kept plugging away with Kieran Lee clipping a Kieran Sadlier – who both came off the bench – cross into the arms of Holy at the near post.
But it was an afternoon when nothing quite clicked for a Wanderers side given a reminder of work still to do and aiming to peak in two weeks’ time for the opener at Ipswich Town.
Bolton Wanderers: Trafford; Aimson, Santos, Iredale (Johnston 70); Morley (Williams 70); Bradley (Sadlier 70), Thomason (Lee 60), Dempsey (Afolayan 70), John; Kachunga (Charles 60), Bodvarsson (Bakayoko 60). Substitutes: Dixon.
Carlisle: Holy; Barclay, Feeney (Whelan 8), Mellish; Back (Ellis 70), Guy, Moxon (Devitt 62), Gibson (Armer 62), Dickenson (Hilton); Edmondon (Sho-Silva 70), Dennis (Bollado 78). Substitutes: Breeze.
Referee: Anthony Backhouse
Attendance: 2,239 (Wanderers 562)