EMOTIONS were still raw and so disappointment was the over-riding feeling at the final whistle but travelling fans will have seen enough to suggest a return trip to Craven Cottage next season is not out of the question.

If ever there was an acid test of Wanderers’ Championship credentials, an afternoon spent under the cosh against one of the division’s classiest customers was it.

Phil Parkinson’s side would have pulled off a classic Bolton smash-and-grab had their impeccable defending not lapsed momentarily in stoppage time to allow Tom Cairney to head home Kevin McDonald’s cross unchallenged.

Up to that point, the Whites had clung on stubbornly to the lead supplied by Sammy Ameobi midway through the first half.

A second goal could, and probably should, have been added but Fulham will feel their domination of the latter stages entitled them to a share of the spoils too.

When last Wanderers walked off the pitch at Craven Cottage the same man – Cairney – ensured their relegation from the Championship ended on a typical down-note.

No sensible supporter would have put their hand on heart and suggested the club would be playing in the same arena again 16 months later, such was the uncertainty of the time.

Perhaps the club has become desensitised to such issues, because despite another distracting week in which statements from the boardroom had dominated the agenda, Parkinson and his players carried on regardless.

Separated by 13 places in the table and many millions in budget, it was always going to be a game where Wanderers’ concentration needed to last. Fulham nurture the ball like no other side in the division – but while their style of play might please the purist, their lack of a clinical finisher might be their undoing in a promotion chase.

The west Londoners did get the ball in the net, Floyd Ayite flagged offside, but after finding their rhythm Bolton started to create chances too – Adam Armstrong firing the first of his five efforts on goal wide from the edge of the box and David Wheater slicing over following a Josh Vela corner.

Moments later, Ameobi put the Whites ahead. Fulham’s defenders appeared to stop and admire the quality of the winger’s finish as he turned smartly on to a long clearance from Ben Alnwick and tucked his shot away past David Button.

Tomas Kalas and Co were waiting for the referee to stop play after Gary Madine had gone down injured, ignoring the old adage about playing to the whistle.

Aboubakar Kamara should have restored parity after a smart pass from Cairney put him through on Alnwick but the Frenchman skewed his shot wide of the post.

Fulham’s best work was coming from their right, where full-back Ryan Fredericks was impressive, but the highly-rated Ryan Sessegnon did not have the same joy on the opposite flank. Much of that was down to Ameobi, whose instruction pre-match was to make sure the youngster could not neglect his defensive duties. In that respect, Ameobi had his best game for Bolton since returning from Newcastle United in the summer.

Wanderers clearly needed a second goal to feel comfortable in the game but could not find one.

Parkinson will take a lot of encouragement from the way his side are defending in this 4-2-3-1 system but compromises have to be made elsewhere.

Madine’s main body of work was in his own penalty box at Fulham and for all his hard work, Armstrong looks like a striker desperate for something to happen for him.

The Newcastle United loanee had two big chances in the second half, one pushed wide by Button and the second drifting inches past the post after he had latched on to a miskick from the Fulham keeper.

Wanderers lost Andy Taylor not long after half time to a back injury but his replacement, Everton loanee Antonee Robinson, chipped in with another decent performance.

Fulham gradually took control of the game, and the rising tension among the away fans meant the seconds seemed to tick slower on the large screen above the Hammersmith End. Oh for daylight saving to kick in a few hours earlier.

Neeskens Kebano wasted a glorious chance from close range and Alnwick made another great save from the substitute as the one-way traffic intensified.

Parkinson tried to give Fulham something else to think about by throwing on Adam Le Fondre for Vela. He had been wary of how his side became pinned back against QPR a week earlier and wanted to give the Cottagers something different to think about. The striker had one golden chance to vindicate his manager’s decision, lobbing a shot on to the roof of the net. In the end, he too was sucked into the defensive effort on the edge of the box.

Wave after wave of attacks were repelled, Mark Little and Darren Pratley making goal-saving challenges in front of goal.

But when six minutes went up on the fourth official’s board, it gave Fulham an instant psychological boost.

McDonald skinned Pratley on the left and clipped a cross in for Cairney to head home, sparking scenes of relief around the Cottage.

Thankfully, there was not enough time for Fulham to do any further damage as the Whites were clearly spent.

Ex-Wanderer Tim Ream loitered on the pitch to applaud the travelling fans, a classy touch which very much befits the man himself.

Bolton’s players trudged off the pitch disconsolate – but will cheer up when they reflect on the performance as a whole. If they can maintain that sort of level away from home, the survival fight is winnable.