EXPECTATION is a dangerous thing, and perhaps it is too soon for such thoughts to occupy minds as Wanderers continue their long-term rehabilitation.

As Rochdale came into view for the third time this season there was a definite spike in belief among supporters, possibly even within the dressing room, that a first victory was within reach.

The injury list remains lengthy but Keith Hill’s squad has evolved to the point where they look capable of ending a seven-month wait for success in the league, and so it proved for an hour until that ever-sobering reality set in.

Jack Hobbs’ absence at centre-back had not been an issue up to the point Thibaud Verlinden headed Bolton into the lead, young deputies Adam Senior and Yoan Zouma coping with everything that came their way. But when the goal prompted Rochdale to take remedial action, the exuberance of youth suddenly looked a disadvantage.

Aaron Wilbraham – Wanderers’ saviour in May 2018 – had been laid low by illness before the game but emerged from the bench playing with the legs of a player 10 years younger.

Uncertainty set in and once Callum Camps’ deflected effort brought the visitors level, Ollie Rathbone and Fabio Tavares completed the job.

The pre-match bravado suddenly felt a little misplaced. Bolton have made strides under the new manager but they still look vulnerable in the latter stages of games and so brittle when key players continue to fall to injury. As such, it is tough to see how they can embark on the sort of winning run which will be necessary to close the chasm which has grown above them in the league table.

It remains a case of tiny steps. And reflecting on an encouraging hour on Saturday there is reason to believe some progress is being made.

The combination between Adam Chicksen and Thibaud Verlinden on the left flank looked slick and forced Rochdale boss Brian Barry-Murphy into a half-time personnel change to stem the flow of crosses.

Jason Lowe continues impress in the engine room but both he and Ali Crawford must find a way of maintaining their industry and getting themselves into the penalty box more often.

Joe Dodoo also came off the bench to great effect again. Replacing Dennis Politic at the break, the former Rangers man injected some welcome direction, creating a goal for his opposite winger Verlinden and continually getting beyond Rhys Norrington-Davies.

Wanderers controlled the first half, forcing Rochdale to defend their penalty box without really giving ex-Bolton keeper Jay Lynch – making his first league appearance – any serious saves to make.

The visitors could have scored just a few seconds in as Aaron Morley attempted to lob Remi Matthews from kick-off, only to see his shot drop on the roof of the net.

Otherwise, both sides manufactured half-chances but looked indifferent in the penalty box. Wanderers’ chief issue was a lack of support for sole striker Daryl Murphy, the only man who really looked interested in getting on the end of a consistent supply line from Chicksen and Verlinden.

In the end, the Belgian took matters into his own hands. Dodoo’s arrival at the break gave Rochdale something different to think about and after flicking the ball around Norrington-Davies he delivered a perfect cross to the far post, headed gleefully into the net by the man on the opposite flank.

The psychology of the game changed when Barry-Murphy called for Wilbraham, the man whose last act on this pitch had been to save Phil Parkinson’s side from relegation 18 months ago.

Turning 40 on Monday, the big striker looked instantly to have the bit between his teeth. And that was not good news for young Zouma, who won’t have a more uncomfortable half an hour of football all season long.

Rochdale got level when Henderson dropped off Senior to collect a throw and play in Camps on the edge of the box, his shot deflecting off Zouma past Mathews.

Five minutes later, the hammer blow arrived. Wanderers should have had a second as Daryl Murphy’s shot was blocked on the line by Eoghan O’Connell and Chicksen’s follow up ended up in the hands of Lynch. Within seconds the break was launched, Rathbone flew down the left to drill a shot off the base of the post to put his side ahead.

Bolton did not look likely to get themselves back into it. Sonny Graham limped off with an ankle injury and though Chris O’Grady was given a debut off the bench, Hill going two up front, the invention and width shown earlier on was nowhere to be seen.

The points were put beyond doubt when Zouma lost possession in the Rochdale half, leaving himself way out of position. Tavares still had work to do, but with three Bolton defenders back-tracking rather than forcing him away from goal, the substitute took full advantage.

And so, a new record went into the books. Counting the ‘walkover’ result against Brentford last season this was a 12th home game without victory.

Few Wanderers fans will bat an eyelid, of course, for the majority of that run feels like it happened to a different club.

Patience will be tested in the coming weeks and months. The theory that supporters are ‘just glad there is a club to support’ will also be examined thoroughly if the results do not materialise. For now, however, there is no appetite to scold or find culprits, just to foster the feeling that Wanderers are building towards something better.

Two difficult away trips at Bristol Rovers and Lincoln City await. By the time Wanderers return to league action at home against Fleetwood Town on November 2 the picture should be clearer and, who knows, maybe the EFL will have finally made up their mind on what punishment will be dealt for their indiscretions, allowing the whole club to finally move on?

In the meantime Hill and David Flitcroft will continue to try and improve their lot in increments. What constitutes success this season remains debatable.