PENALTIES decided another cup night for Wanderers and dented Keith Hill’s homecoming.

The Bolton boss came back to the club he managed for a decade – but it was two Whites old boys who had the decisive say on a cold night at Spotland.

Jay Lynch saved the deciding penalty from Adam Chicksen after Aaron Wilbraham had headed Rochdale level in the second half.

In theory, Wanderers avoided a record-equalling 10th successive away defeat.

They had only twice done it before, in 1979 as a First Division team and in 1984 whilst playing in Division Three.

For a while it seemed Bolton would rediscover the winning feeling they have not now felt in 185 days, as Ali Crawford’s wonderful free-kick on the stroke of half time put them into the driving seat.

Hill had spoken before the game about exposing younger players to competitive football, going against the grain of general managerial opinion by admitting he rather likes the midweek group matches and inclusion of Premier League Under-23s teams.

His team was more experienced than we might have guessed. Although a handful of substitutes had played in the development squad’s 2-0 defeat to Hull City the night before, only two of the starting line-up had not been involved against Portsmouth.

Dennis Politic and Sonny Graham replaced Jack Hobbs and Daryl Murphy, meaning Liam Bridcutt dropped into the back four and Will Buckley was restored to a central role up front.

Bridcutt’s night could hardly be described as comfortable, particularly after the arrival of Calvin Andrew off the bench. Though he talked young team-mate Yoan Zouma through the game, it came at a price, and there were some uncharacteristic errors which probably stemmed from his unfamiliarity with the position.

Wanderers saved the best for last in the first half but nearly got off to a nightmarish start when Bridcutt wrong-footed Remi Matthews with a back-pass, forcing the keeper to frantically scoop the ball off the line.

Things mercifully settled after that and with impetuous wingers Dennis Politic and Thibaud Verlinden looking very much in the mood, Hill will have been pleased with the tempo his side set.

Crawford had an early sighter, Lynch doing well to spring to his left and push a fifth-minute free kick on to the post.

Verlinden and Chicksen also tested Lynch from distance as Rochdale struggled to recover from the early loss of Stephen Dooley to injury.

The dominance didn’t last, however, and after Wilbraham, put their first shot on target 20 minutes in the tides started to turn.

Lewis Bradley flicked a shot inches over the crossbar, Matty Gillam also hit the side netting after a mistake from Bridcutt allowed Fabio Tavares to tear down the left.

Again the pendulum swung. Josh Emmanuel’s fine run down the right ended with a clipped cross Verlinden could hardly miss – yet the Belgian’s header was somehow diverted into the empty stand behind the goal, the audible groans heard not only from the travelling fans but from the away dugout too.

The disappointment proved momentary. The game was into added time in the first half when Crawford lined-up another free kick from 25 yards – one which looked ambitious at the time. But the Scot was clearly keen, and his shot could hardly have been more inch-perfect, dipping under the bar with Lynch totally helpless.

Since this Wanderers squad was thrown together on deadline day, the second half has not been their speciality. It clearly hadn’t been lost on Hill and David Flitcroft, whose every instruction echoed around Spotland as if to try and keep their players’ focus on the job at hand.

Within 12 minutes of the restart, Rochdale were level. Gillam’s deep cross found the head of Wilbraham. Bolton fans will remember how the rest goes.

The striker, who turns 40 next month, gave a casual gesture of acknowledgement for the cross but refused to celebrate, an act which earned him another chant from the away fans once the excitement had died down.

For the remainder of the game Rochdale looked the more likely to find a winner. Emmanuel provided a block on the line to deny Bradley and Matthews made a smart save at his near post after Tavares had got around substitute Hobbs.

Crawford arrowed a late header just wide as things briefly flickered into life for Wanderers with three minutes to go but the playfulness that Wanderers had shown early on with the ball had largely disappeared.

And so we went to penalties again. Whereas the Junior Whites contested the last shootout, there was more experience in the Bolton ranks this time around.

Verlinden, Politic and Crawford scored their spot kicks but Lynch made a sprawling save to deny Chicksen, leaving Wanderers with just a solitary point on the night.