WHAT a time for Wanderers to hit the self-destruct button.

However tenuous the Whites’ 1-0 lead at the break, there was no excuse for an inept second-half performance which left home fans stone cold in more ways than one.

Preston – enterprising and dynamic throughout – barely deserved to be behind after Mark Beevers had slotted home his first goal of the season early on.

But Ben Alnwick’s brilliance could only keep the Lillywhites at bay for so long, and Bolton simply had no answer once Tom Barkhuizen had equalised.

The same tactical change which had shored up defences at Carrow Road a week earlier backfired this time for Phil Parkinson and his staff, and once they had moved to a flat back four Preston simply hammered home their superiority with ease. Two goals from substitute Sean Maguire gave the score-line a comfortable look which more than adequately reflected one of the most disappointing home performances of the season.

Those few home supporters who stuck around in the sub-zero temperatures to the final whistle were not shy to tell Parkinson and his team they expect, and deserve better.

How quickly fortunes can change. Lauded for seeing the game out for a solid point away from home last weekend, the Bolton boss now witnessed the other side of the spectrum, struggling to justify the second-half display.

“We knew Preston were a threat,” he said. “They are a good attacking side who are quick on the break and it showed in the second period. They looked like a dangerous team.

“We looked edgy. Once we’d got the goal it settled us down a bit and had a couple of decent moments – I think Fil Morais had the beating of the left-back – Antonee Robinson was doing great on the left side. But we lacked calmness and it’s difficult to put my finger on why.

“They are sharp players and we’ve got big, strong defenders, but we didn’t look capable of grabbing hold of the game.

“I thought we looked at full-stretch at times.

"We didn’t play as well as we have done at home and we’ve got to look at reasons for that.”

Putting the result into context, this was only the second time in 13 games Bolton had been beaten at home. There is no shame in losing to a well-drilled side like Preston – despite the dent to local pride which goes with it – but the manner of the display throughout fell short of what we have come to expect of Parkinson’s team.

This is a group of players assembled for the princely sum of zero – but that does not help to rationalise some of the basic errors being made on the day.

There was an unexplainable nervousness about Bolton from the off. Panicked clearances from the back gifted Preston possession time and time again, while the policy of hitting long balls towards young Tyler Walker as if he was a 6ft 5ins target man was equally puzzling.

When Wanderers got the ball down and played, they looked capable. Sammy Ameobi, Josh Vela and Fil Morais did that on rare occasions but nowhere close enough to have salvaged a result.

Beevers opened the scoring from a set piece – still Bolton’s saving grace – once Dorian Dervite’s header had been blocked on the line. Alnwick had already denied Billy Bodin twice with smart stops in the opening stages but willed on by an ever-retreating Wanderers defence, Preston never looked far away from their next opportunity. Barkhuizen’s curling shot was pushed aside in spectacular fashion, and the Bolton keeper then bailed Dervite out again following a dreadful back-pass.

Only one team turned up in the second half.

Barkhuizen finished off a perfect counter attack, leaving Dervite trailing in his wake, to level the scores on 53 minutes.

Parkinson made the decision to move to a four-man defence despite lacking a recognised right-back on his bench. The absence of Liverpool loanee Jon Flanagan meant Dervite was shifted wide, and what had been a poor afternoon for the Frenchman just got worse.

Up front, Tyler Walker’s anonymous afternoon ended prematurely and it was left to Adam Le Fondre to routinely chase shadows. Jan Kirchhoff also came off the bench for his first appearance – connecting with Morais’s free kick with his first touch, but steering a header wide.

Preston continued to make chances. Callum Robinson wasted a good one after a neat one-two on the edge of the box, and Alnwick made a scrambling save at the foot of his post from Paul Huntington after losing track of a corner.

The visitors, backed by more than 3,500 fans behind the goal enjoying their ‘Gentry Day,’ seized the lead after another goalmouth scramble, the ball popping up fortuitously for Maguire to roll over the line from close range.

Very briefly, Bolton sparked into life. Vela’s shot was pushed away by Declan Rudd – who also got his fingertips to divert Ameobi’s cross away from Darren Pratley’s reach.

But the final 10 minutes, played in Baltic conditions, were effectively a training exercise. Preston saw out the game with ruthless efficiency, and Maguire grabbed a second with another nice bit of opportunism in injury time.

Tuesday night's trip to Reading, followed by another away day at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, will have a bigger effect on Wanderers' Championship fate. And with Karl Henry and Mark Little back from suspension, there are reasons for some optimism.

It is of some concern, however, that with a couple of months remaining the inconsistency running right through Parkinson's selection leaves his side such an unpredictable commodity. Which Bolton will turn up at the Madejski and Hillsborough? We wait and see.