HOW on earth did we end up back here?

The unbridled anger which rained down on Wanderers at the final whistle against Oxford United has an unpleasantly familiar air about it.

Just when Phil Parkinson appeared to have added a calm sensibility to a club which had been in freefall, we find ourselves right back in the same place again.

Fans’ rage is perfectly understandable, given the performances have dipped suddenly and unexpectedly to last season’s levels, albeit with a slightly different set of personnel.

There is no off-the-field turmoil to blame this time around, players do not have the justification of a delayed pay packet or a stream of negative headlines. This is straightforward, people not doing their job, a lack of inventiveness on the ball and, more worryingly, a shortage of bravery off it.

We can only hope the dip will prove a temporary phenomenon and that Parkinson manages to fix what is currently broken. But even the manager looks lost to explain how a team that made such an encouraging start has lost its way in such a short space of time.

Problems were brewing long before Wes Thomas opened the scoring with nine minutes to go, let alone when Chris Maguire passed the ball into an empty net at the bitter end. This had been a wretched 90 minutes for the Whites from which very few emerged with any credit.

To start writing the season off completely is very premature.

Perhaps we need to adjust the expectation levels which were swelled so significantly after four straight wins in August – but there is still no question the calibre of player within the squad should be capable of more.

Wanderers did play slightly within themselves as they made their best start for 80-odd years and at that stage we hoped it gave them scope to improve. When five signings were made on transfer deadline day, they looked like a catalyst.

Instead, the new additions appear to have created an imbalance. James Henry has struggled, thus far, to produce consistent delivery, Keshi Anderson and Sammy Ameobi have blown cold rather than hot and Tom Thorpe has not yet been given a proper chance.

Some have started to question Parkinson’s tactics – and having used two wide men at Rochdale on Tuesday night and come up short, he returned to a tried-and-trusted diamond formation and got similar results.

The manager made four changes, dropping Lawrie Wilson, Chris Taylor, Jamie Proctor and Anderson after the midweek palaver. Fit-again Zach Clough and Gary Madine showed some vaguely positive signs – Mark Beevers also enjoying a relatively hassle-free return after illness but Liam Trotter’s ineffectual, passive performance summed up the whole afternoon.

It is not fair to consign an eight-game streak without victory to a lack of effort or professional pride but rather too many of the Whites’ line-up are playing within themselves, perhaps robbed of the spark which ignited their form at the start of the season.

Oxford, by contrast, seemed surprised at their hosts’ show of charity. Ready to buckle down for an afternoon of defending their own penalty area they survived a relatively simple first half to take the game to Wanderers in the second 45 minutes.

A warm round of applause for former Bolton striker Ivan Klasnic, who is critically ill in hospital, was observed by both sets of fans on 17 minutes.

Oxford created the only decent opportunity of the first half when Marvin Johnson’s cross was prodded towards goal by Maguire and grabbed on the line by Mark Howard.

The Whites had shown limited intent to attack – Henry lifting one shot over the bar after Clough had swept at thin air.

As the interval passed, so did 400 minutes since Bolton were last able to celebrate a goal.

Wanderers briefly showed a willingness to snap out of their malaise after half time, Charlie Raglan heading over his own bar from Clough’s cross, but the game soon shifted back to passive mode once more.

Sensing the nervousness which had spread around the stadium, Parkinson opted to send a shock to the system with a triple substitution; a brave move out of the managerial handbook at the best of times.

Anderson, Proctor and Ameobi entered for Clough, Madine and Henry but their impact was decidedly minimal, as the Whites’ shape barely changed. In fact, the substitutions served to goad Oxford into getting a foothold in the game.

Howard made a routine save from Hemmings and then denied Alex McDonald with a brilliant one-handed stop with 15 minutes left on the clock.

No fan would have been content with a goalless draw but the scant consolation of a clean sheet soon disappeared when McDonald swung a cross in from the right wing, stabbed home – unmarked – at the far post by Thomas.

Journeyman Maguire, a target for Neil Lennon in his Sheffield Wednesday days, wrapped things up after Howard had denied Hemmings.

Two-nil was a flattering scoreline considering the lack of goalmouth action but Oxford’s three points were undoubtedly deserved.

Wanderers knew what was coming. The boos rained down at the final whistle just as strongly as they had at Rochdale on Tuesday night – only this time it was in stereo.

And, frankly, who can blame the fans for voicing their displeasure?

This team, almost unprompted, has slipped to a standard you could hardly have imagined just a few weeks ago as Parkinson clutched the League One manager-of-the-month award as we looked on five deadline-day signings as the necessary additions to push for promotion.

Parkinson is being questioned, his set-up viewed as too defensive by some.

But the lack of spark is not down to formations, more confidence, and the manager’s biggest problem right now is to restore whatever has slipped away in Wanderers’ make-up since August before the backlash becomes too great.