JUST when you thought it was safe to step confidently into Saturday afternoons again, and WHAM!

A king-sized kick in the proverbials for those misguided folk who had Wanderers’ first-ever trip to Accrington down as a jolly boys’ outing, this result deserves to go down in the annals for all the wrong reasons.

Take nothing away from John Coleman’s snarling, industrious Accrington, they fully deserved their biggest margin of victory since returning to the Football League 13 years ago. And leave aside for a moment referee Anthony Backhouse’s decision to award a 15th minute penalty and send-off defender Josh Earl – which tested strenuously the definition of common sense.

The honest truth is that Wanderers deserved nothing. This was a humiliating performance devoid of any soul whatsoever and if it is replicated there is only one end result, relegation.

It is easy to go overboard with the sense of injustice. The ongoing EFL disciplinary matter was an unwanted distraction last week and Bolton supporters feel aggrieved. That same feeling was directed towards Cumbrian official Backhouse when, with Bolton a Daryl Murphy goal to the good, he gave a soft penalty and doubled down by ordering Earl off the pitch.

Harsh decision, yes. But not one that should have led to such a dereliction of defensive duties.

Wanderers have been nothing if not hard-working under Keith Hill. They got a reminder at Rotherham United of how tough their task will be but since then there has been positive progress made in team shape and discipline, all of which was conspicuous by its absence here.

It is hard to recall a scoreline which felt like such a smack in the chops. Usually, there is some clue in the build-up, a back story that allows you to put the pounding into some context.

There is no great dissention towards the way the team is being managed, as there was with Dougie Freedman when his Bolton team was humbled 7-1 at Reading in 2014, and nor is there the mistrust towards ownership, or general disorganisation that there had been when caretaker bosses Jimmy Phillips and Peter Reid had their side humbled at Bristol City a couple of years later.

Perhaps the only comparison to make in living memory for Wanderers fans is the 5-0 FA Cup semi-final defeat against Stoke City, or for those with a longer memory, the 4-0 tonking Phil Neal’s team took at Scarborough in 1987.

Whether this wretched 90 minutes gains any historical significance in the future remains to be seen but, as things stand, there seems no particular mood among the Bolton fans for a mass inquest. They, like Hill, hope it will be a flash in the pan.

To borrow the manager’s analogy, Wanderers’ fans recognise that there is still a mountain to climb. And even after three straight wins there was a widespread recognition that the ‘impossible dream’ would not be a formality.

This, however, felt like a personal kick in the shin. And the apology offered after the game by captain Liam Bridcutt on behalf of the dressing room was wholly warranted.

Murphy’s opening goal after four minutes looked at the time to be the start of a joyous day, sparking into life a huge travelling support who had taken full advantage of Accrington’s excellent hospitality.

Unfortunately it ended there.

Stanley’s equaliser came from Colby Bishop via the penalty spot after Earl had grabbed Charles as he turned inside the penalty box. Not for the last time, Wanderers had looked vulnerable from wide positions and as there was no attempt to play the ball referee Backhouse took up the option of sending the defender off.

From that moment on Bolton’s body language was not right. Hill resisted the urge to bring a replacement defender off the bench, Bridcutt instead dropping deeper, and the home side took full advantage.

Lee Sykes hit the post with a header and the busy Jordan Clark flashed a shot narrowly wide. The formality of a second goal was realised when Bishop rose well to head home Seamus Coneely’s cross.

Both Bolton full-backs, Josh Emmanuel and Adam Chicksen were swamped by the poor defending in front of them and a third goal materialised when Charles ran in down the right to leave the excellent Sean McConville with a tap in at the far post.

Hill relented and sent on Yoan Zouma for Chris O’Grady. By that point, however, Wanderers’ defensive shape was gone completely.

Into the second half, Accrington’s hunger to attack was impressive. Remi Matthews pushed a shot wide from Clark but then found himself beaten again as the same man drilled a low cross to McConville, again first to react.

Sub Joe Dodoo lifted a shot on to the roof of the net in a fleeting reminder there were two sets of goals – but normal service was resumed as Charles hooked in a close-range volley.

Daryl Murphy had a shot blocked on the line by keeper Dimitar Evtimov and within moments Stanley sub Offrande Zanzala poked in the sixth of the day.

McConville deserved a hat-trick, and would have taken the match-ball home had it not been for a remarkable stop on the line by Matthews – who along with goal-scorer Murphy was the only man to really come out of the game with a semblance of credit.

Penny for his thoughts, then, as his defenders failed to clear their lines again, leaving Zanzala to make it seven in injury time.

It is hard to pinpoint why Wanderers were this bad. Did the EFL nonsense have a more profound effect than we thought? Did an air of over-confidence creep in? Did the spartan changing facilities and bracing cold weather get the better of them? Maybe a combination of the three.

There is no doubt, however, that Hill’s team need to find a quick and decisive response if they are going to keep fans onside, and prevent November 23, 2019, from entering into the history books as the day it all started to go wrong.

No panic button being pressed just yet. But this was a sobering and pertinent reminder of where it can be found.