JOE Mason scored just four minutes into his return but Wanderers twice let their lead slip to take a point against Forest.
The on-loan Cardiff City striker made a dream start, heading home the opening goal, and was a constant menace throughout in the start of his third spell at Bolton.
But in a frenetic seven-minute first-half spell the visitors twice hit back through club record signing Britt Assombalonga, either side of a David Wheater strike for the Whites.
Assombalonga went close to sealing his hat-trick at the start of the second-half, while Craig Davies had the best chance of grabbing a victory for the Whites, heading over with 15 minutes to go.
Wanderers got an early let-off when Matt Mills misjudged a header and £5.5million man Britt Assombalonga fluffed a chance to square for strike partner Matty Fryatt, allowing Kevin McNaughton to make a rescuing challenge.
But unlike a week ago at Watford, the early mistake was not a sign for things to come.
Just three minutes later Jay Spearing floated a free-kick in for Mason to head home virtually unchallenged from six yards out.
Adam Bogdan, back in goal for Andy Lonergan, made a fine double save as first Andy Reid then Matty Fryatt headed towards goal.
Aside from that scare, Wanderers played their best stuff of the season so far in the opening 25 minutes – Craig Davies linking up well with Mason and keeping Karl Darlow on his toes in the Forest goal.
Just as the game seemed to be settling down, Assombalonga brought the visitors level, sweeping home a header back across goal by Antonio and sparking a frantic passage of play before the break.
Wanderers restored their lead almost instantly as Spearing’s free-kick was cleared as far as Ream, who scooped the ball back into the box for Wheater to pass into the net from four yards out.
Freedman’s side had something to hold on to – but a terribly rash challenge by Spearing on the very edge of the penalty area on Assombalonga gave Forest a chance to level from the spot.
Assombalonga drove his spot kick straight down the middle to level the scores. Spearing, eager to atone for his error, went into the referee’s book seconds later for another late challenge on Chris Cohen.
The game slowed down after the break but Forest will still feel they should have gone ahead when Assombalonga connected with Antonio’s cross, only for his header to drift inches wide of the far post.
Mason’s movement continued to be an issue for Forest, although service to the on-loan striker was drying up as the half wore on.
With 10 minutes left, Craig Davies had a golden chance to wrap up all three points for the Whites when he got on the end of Kevin McNaughton’s cross, only to put his stooping header over the bar.
A point apiece was probably a fair reflection on the game in the end - even though Wanderers will rue twice failing to defend their lead.
But in comparison with previous outings against Bury and Watford, this was a big step in the right direction.