WANDERERS never found the goal their fluid football deserved – but if this is a signpost for the future, then count us in.

A second point of the season might leave Bolton on minus 10, with a long way between themselves and safety but it was celebrated as warmly as any victory had been for some time.

They hit the bar through Will Buckley, tested Oxford’s keeper Simon Eastwood on several occasions, and played neat, attacking football which had a small but noisy crowd on the edge of their seat throughout.

There had been isolated patches of quality football at Rotherham, albeit ones totally eclipsed by the margin of defeat.

Here, however, we saw Wanderers put together some of the most enterprising stuff they had managed in years.

Hill had tempered fans’ expectations by saying his hastily-assembled squad would need time to settle into their playing patterns but even he must have been surprised with the standards he got in the opening 45 minutes.

Buckley made his first start after re-signing and played centrally, as opposed to the wide positions he had occupied so often under Phil Parkinson.

The net result was hugely encouraging, and he came closest to opening the scoring in the first half with a well-timed run to spring the offside trap and a delicate finish which bounced back off the crossbar.

Wanderers created plenty more chances, though, as every player on the park raised their game considerably on what we had witnessed against the Millers at the weekend.

Thibaud Verlinden had a goal-bound effort blocked well by Cameron Brannagan in the early stages and Jason Lowe – back in midfield for Luke Murphy – squeezed a shot inches wide after a well-timed run into the penalty box.

Dennis Politic was revelling in the chance to run at defenders, manufacturing enough space to test Eastwood on a couple of occasions.

The young winger seems to enjoy playing in front of his own supporters and each time he gets the ball there is no knowing what will happen next, making him such an exciting player to watch.

It must be said that no player upped his game from the weekend more than full-back Josh Emmanuel, whose work down the right in the first half was exemplary.

Jake Wright and Jack Hobbs also looked solid under the snippets of pressure Oxford eventually delivered before half time.

Remi Matthews was only forced into one meaningful save as Rob Dickie’s low shot skidded through a sea of legs on the edge of the box, otherwise the Bolton keeper was protected well by his experienced centre-halves.

The only disappointment for Bolton was that they did not take a half-time lead back down the tunnel.

Verlinden will feel he should have done better arriving on to Emmanuel’s far-post cross but the warm and appreciative applause which met the referee’s whistle said everything about the football the Whites had played.

Oxford came out after the interval with a little more aggression and nearly stole the lead through Alex Rodriguez Gorrin’s near-post header, pushed around the post by a sprawling Matthews.

Wanderers’ fans responded. There may have only been a shade over 6,000 paying for a game still outside the remit of the season ticket but their backing was as loud as it has been all season.

Both of Bolton’s wingers were able to offer a trick or two to keep the viewing pleasure high but Politic showed a less palatable side of his game on the hour mark when he picked up a caution for diving on the edge of the penalty box.

Verlinden, who had scored his first professional goal at Rotherham, looks a player who will add plenty more to his tally before his career is out.

The Belgian tested Eastwood again with a fiercely-driven effort on 65 minutes after seizing on to Buckley’s knock down, ensuring the volume levels raised again.

James Henry’s season at Wanderers will be remembered almost exclusively for his late winning goal against Scunthorpe United on New Year’s Eve 2016 but since leaving the club he has become a regular goal-scorer at Oxford.

He nearly stole the headlines with 15 minutes to go with a deflected shot which bounced off the outside of the post with Matthews well beaten.

Had Henry done so, it would have been a crime. Far more deserving of the privilege was Lowe, whose midfield performance was again excellent – and his 25-yard blast forced Eastwood into his most acrobatic save of the night.

Wanderers were certainly not settling for a point and sub James Weir saw a late effort deflected just wide of the post moments after replacing Verlinden.

The strains of The Great Escape were chanted by home fans as the game drew to a close.

And though Keith Hill’s side were not able to claim the victory their performance deserved, the level of improvement on their last outing gives tremendous scope for optimism.