IF Bolton Wanderers’ eventual fate is to drop into the fourth tier of English football for only the second time in their history, then they must do so with a bang, not a whimper, like this, in fact.

Folk must be getting weary hearing how the club got into this position, and this writer is definitely tired of telling the tale. It has been a long and convoluted journey – one packed to the gills with greed, lies, bad choices and under-performance.

But while it is tempting to analyse that past and become bitter, folk who have stood by their team in its darkest hour also need some convincing that there is a reason to stay there. There simply must be evidence over the next few months that a team is being rebuilt, even if it does end up playing in League Two.

Here, in the second half at least, there was something. Bolton fought hard to get back into the game having conceded a soft first-half goal to Christian Burgess, and they deserved more.

They badly missed the clinical finishing of top-scorer Daryl Murphy, who was given compassionate leave to be with a family member, and Pompey might well have had a man sent off when Sean Raggett brought down Joe Dodoo on the edge of the penalty box with the striker seemingly en route to goal.

There was enough in the performance, however, to leave fans feeling content, especially with homegrown talent like Dennis Politic and Ronan Darcy once again coming to the fore.

Politic’s maverick talents can make him a fascinating and a frustrating player to watch, at times. Few his age can strike a ball so cleanly and when his confidence is up, there is barely an inch of an opponents’ half where a shot will not be attempted. On the flip side, he has struggled physically to stay in games to the end, which does not marry well with the high-tempo brand of football Keith Hill has brought to the club.

With Murphy missing against Pompey, Politic was played through the middle alongside Joe Dodoo in the first half, moving wider after the interval when the unfortunate Liam Edwards was taken off injured. Consistently Wanderers’ most dangerous player on the ball, and unlucky with at least one thunderbolt from the edge of the box, this was a polar opposite to the anonymous 90 minutes he’d had at Lincoln.

Darcy broke his scoring duck in Tuesday’s heavy defeat at the LNER Stadium – a game from which it was difficult to take any other positive.

It was questioned whether the 19-year-old could, or should keep up his familiar boundless levels of energy for another 90 minutes but he did so against Pompey and strengthened his position as a player who is rapidly becoming a terrace favourite.

Another mention must also go to on-loan full-back Brandon Fleming, who made a very solid debut in a week where his signing came under some heavy scrutiny.

Recruitment has been hugely under-invested at Bolton in recent times but there are signs that Football Ventures plan to change that. Their strategic move towards self-sufficiency over the next few seasons is not a cheap option but as the likes of Brentford have shown, it can be successful.

In the present moment, Wanderers need points fast. And the owners must decide how much money to throw into the pursuit of avoiding relegation, as opposed to building for next season. It is not an easy balance to strike and the two things are not mutually exclusive.

Securing the future of Politic and Darcy would be a big step. Both are showing signs of progression and along with centre-back Edwards, who is already contracted for another year, would be a solid spine from which to build.

The first half of the match itself was largely forgettable, save for two incidents.

Raggett’s foul on Dodoo on the very edge of the box was borderline between yellow and red. Arguments over intent to play the ball are moot when it is a free-kick and not a penalty, and only the presence of covering defender Burgess saved his team-mate’s skin.

Referee Tom Nield was unimpressed. His performance on the day lurched between super-officious and downright puzzling but, here, he probably got it right.

Portsmouth’s goal was as scrappy as they come. Raggett just had to be involved – his header blocked but not dealt with by Remi Matthews – and again Burgess was there on time, sweeping the ball inside the post.

Edwards was injured shortly before the break and forced Hill to swap things around. Chris O’Grady came on up front, Jason Lowe dropped into the back four and Politic and Dodoo made the game wider. As a result, Wanderers worked their way into the game.

O’Grady is going through the mill at the moment. His bright start in a Bolton shirt is fading and the fact he missed the best chance to equalise will not have gone unnoticed in the stands. Darcy’s excellent cross from the right first evaded Dodoo and was then almost hooked upwards by the veteran attacker from four yards out.

Politic was denied on a couple of occasions by Alex Bass in the Pompey goal and then with just a minute left on the clock Connor Hall burst off the bench on his league debut to find some space on the left edge of the box, only for his angled shot to skew wildly wide.

Wanderers should have got something from the game but the reaction at the final whistle was one of appreciation. It’s two weekends on from Hill’s outburst that some may not be “on the same page” but here was ample proof that many understand where the club is at, and where it wants to be.

Portsmouth have been to the edge of the same abyss. Their fans, who turned out in impressive number and considerable volume at the UniBol on Saturday, have also spent many hours waiting for news from the High Court wondering if their club would survive the week.

They got through it. And while this isn’t the Pompey of Kanu, Krancjar or Muntari, Kenny Jackett’s team have been rebuilt from scratch, restored lovingly, and after climbing out of the bottom division now have strong aspirations to make a Championship return.

The 99th meeting between the two old clubs was only the second outside the top two flights. It would be nice to think when the 100th is played it will reflect the fact both Bolton and Pompey are on the up and have made a full recovery.

For the time being, Wanderers just have to give their supporters something to come back for next season.