WANDERERS missed out on a golden chance to seal automatic promotion after Pierce Sweeney’s late header condemned them to defeat at the UniBol.

Leading 1-0 at half time thanks to Gethin Jones’ superb finish 15 minutes in, Randell Williams brought the Grecians level four minutes after the restart.

The game could have gone either way after that – but Wanderers’ lack of composure and bravery in the final third eventually proved costly and Sweeney’s late header in the 95th minute eventually sealed all three points.

Wanderers now hold just a one-point lead over Morecambe going into a final day game at Crawley.

“There were too many below par,” Ian Evatt said after the game. “Too many went into their shell second half and they looked out on their feet. Maybe that was the emotion of the game, the expectancy, I don’t know, we just weren’t ourselves.

“We got the early goal, which is exactly what we needed to do, but we just stopped doing what was getting us to those positions. Whether that was fear, I don’t know, but we were very disappointed, obviously.”

Evatt brought Antoni Sarcevic and Declan John back into the side for George Thomason and Ben Jackson, as hundreds of Bolton fans gathered outside the stadium hoping for a promotion party.

Exeter had the first chance of the game as top-scorer and EFL player of the year nominee Matt Jay cut in past Alex Baptiste to bring a save out of Matt Gilks at his near post.

Wanderers then started to find their stride. Antoni Sarcevic, back in the side for George Thomason, had a shot blocked on the edge of the box and Baptiste had another deflected just wide from 25 yards.

Fifteen minutes in, Jones gave Bolton the advantage, finishing a fine flowing move involving Eoin Doyle and Sarcevic, the full-back passing a shot inside the far post for his third of the season.

Bolton had their tails up and could have extended their lead, Declan John forced Jokull Andresson into a full length save with a free kick and Ricardo Santos headed just over the bar from a corner.

Alex Hartridge might have been lucky to stay on the pitch for Exeter when he sent Lloyd Isgrove tumbling on the edge of the area as the last man. Referee Anthony Backhouse only saw fit to issue a yellow.

As the half wore on, however, Exeter started to feel their way back into it. Grecians skipper Jake Taylor found space on the edge of the penalty box to bring another save out of Gilks, then snatched at another shot moments later after getting another sight of the Bolton goal.

Wanderers made a positive start after the break, Isgrove having one effort deflected wide.

But, to their credit, Exeter continued to play good football and with one flowing move from back to front, Randell Williams drove an equalising goal into the bottom corner.

The second half slowed considerably in pace as both sides seemed to come to terms with what was at stake in the table.

Doyle went closest for the Whites, failing by inches to connect with an Isgrove cross and also having another one blocked superbly by Peter Sweeney.

Exeter knew only a win would keep them in the play-off chase and Jay thought he had found a second when he chipped a shot over the on-rushing Gilks with 15 minutes to go, only to see it bounce into the side netting.

Arthur Gnahoua fired one late effort over the bar for Bolton – but too often the final ball or moment of quality was lacking.

And with the final attack of the game Exeter piled forward for a free kick, Sweeney heading home from close range to spark jubilant scenes on the opposition bench.

Outside, the Bolton support fell momentarily silent. Their celebrations may have to wait one more week.