ANTONI Sarcevic rescued Wanderers once again – but a point against Mansfield Town should not paper over the cracks of a poor performance. 

Due credit to Bolton’s non-stop skipper for once again pulling his team out of the smelly stuff with a 90th-minute strike but Ian Evatt will know in his heart of hearts that the second-half display deserved little more than defeat. 

Wanderers had looked bright in the early stages but fashioned only one shot of note against a managerless side who had yet to win a game in League Two this season. 

Defensively, there was improvement on what we had seen a few days earlier at Brisbane Road but the free-flowing, expansive football we were promised in the summer looks as far away as it ever has.  

Wanderers set a furious pace early on, perhaps determined to exorcise the demons of that Halloween horror show at Leyton Orient. 

No team in League Two had conceded more goals inside the first 15 minutes than Mansfield, and so there was a feeling that if the Whites could get into their opponents early, there were goals to be scored. 

The passing was crisp, the movement was good, but Bolton never quite managed to turn it into an advantage. 

The closest they came was a low drive from Sarcevic, who linked up beautifully with Nathan Delfouneso – in after passing a late fitness test – before bringing a smart save out of Marek Stech. 

Billy Crellin’s recent form has been discussed by all and sundry over the last few weeks and though penalty saves against Bradford and Orient earned him a little respite from the critics, error-free appearances have been few and far between. 

News that goalkeeper coach Matt Gilks is now in training with a view to contesting a first-team spot places further responsibility on the Fleetwood youngster to improve his consistency and his first-half performance against Mansfield was definitely a step in the right direction. 

His first save from Nicky Maynard was arguably as a result of his own poor punch – but Crellin definitely pulled one out of the bag moments later, making an excellent block after Jordan Bowery had rolled Alex Baptiste far too easily. 

Evatt’s decision to keep faith with Baptiste also raised eyebrows. The former Blackpool man had been hooked at half-time at the weekend and had his keeper to thank for sweeping that particular error under the carpet. Otherwise, it must be said, the experienced defender was solid enough. 

Ronan Darcy’s return to the starting line-up meant a slight tweak in the team shape, the youngster taking a position alongside Ali Crawford, tucked just behind Delfouneso. 

Bolton’s best work came through the middle, as Sarcevic and Delfouneso joined up well early on, but the shooting – as so often has been the case of late – was sub-standard. 

Mansfield began the second half as brightly as they had finished the first, with ex-Aston Villa man Bowery at the heart of most of their enterprising play. 

A neat one-two cut Bolton open a few minutes after the restart, presenting George Maris with a chance he did well to miss from eight yards out. 

Moments later, Crellin got fingertips on Mal Benning’s low drive to divert it around the post. And from the resulting corner, Charlton loanee George Lapslie climbed highest to head home the opening goal. 

Evatt reacted by throwing on Arthur Gnahoua for Darcy and playing more of a traditional front two but the team had lost all of its previous energy. With half an hour to go, they were already looking beaten. 

As the night wore on the sound of fireworks popping around Horwich and beyond could be heard at the empty UniBol but when a spark was needed to ignite the Whites, it was nowhere to be found. 

Crawford’s night had deteriorated badly. The Scot had been imperious against Bradford a week earlier but laboured to the bitter end against the Stags, unable to get his game going in any way, shape or form. 

Shaun Miller came off the bench for his first appearance since September 8 and showed a couple of decent touches but nothing, alas, to get Bolton going once more. 

Mansfield’s resolve to protect their points strengthened as the game wore on. Wanderers, rather fittingly given the way their season has gone thus far, developed a worrying habit of slipping on the turf whenever they got close to the Mansfield goal. 

And then with all hope seemingly lost, Crawford’s long pass found Sarcevic through the middle and the skipper did enough to force the ball over the advancing Stech for the equaliser. 

Performance-wise November has started as October ended, with Bolton looking more like a team that should be staring anxiously over their shoulder at the bottom two than one with any sort of aspirations to be playing in a higher division next season.