AS the final minutes ticked down at Shrewsbury there was an undeniable feeling in the pit of the stomach that the day’s defining moment was still to come.

Wanderers had defended stoically, almost out of character, in fact.

This team was supposed to be a soft touch away from home, battered everywhere they go according to the song. But with newfound belief and shape they had fended off the benign but ever-present threat from the home attack impressively and fully deserved to claim a second successive clean sheet.

Still, as the dusk settled in Shropshire, those who have watched Bolton for a while knew not to write that opening paragraph.

Then the moment arrived. Dion Charles’ right boot laced through the ball like a lead guitarist strumming the opening chord of a rock classic. We all knew where the shot was heading but for a perfect second 1,600 sets of synapses waited to spark into action. Then delirium. No sound in beats that of a last-minute winner. The guttural roar of grown ups punching the air and thanking the football gods.

Add to that the layers of subtext – Charles’ new-born daughter Hattie, who arrived on Thursday evening, his complicated start as a Bolton player, and the fact this side had been so woeful away from home for so long. This was Radiohead finishing Glastonbury with Creep, and we were all here for it.

Shrewsbury boss Steve Cotterill looked crestfallen as he tried to make sense of it all, claiming his team had been superior on the day. We have certainly seen Ian Evatt make the same worthless case on countless occasions this season.

There are promising signs, however, that this remodelled Bolton side has a stronger collective mentality, one which can put them on the right side of more results just like this.

In possession, there are still clear kinks to be ironed out. Aaron Morley and wing-backs Marlon Fossey and Declan John provided what little forward momentum the Whites had in the first half, and it wasn’t until Dapo Afolayan replaced Kieran Lee at the break did we really see Shrewsbury’s back three tested at all.

This new shape has put more onus on the wider defenders to step into midfield and create the extra option, something George Johnston and Gethin Jones did better as the game wore on.

While the work is in progress, it is doubly important for Bolton to give themselves a chance. And even though their attacking play was fragmented at times, the improvement in defence is clear to see.

Jones has spread calm since his return from injury, bringing Ricardo Santos out of a nervous spell and back to the type of form we hoped he would carry forward from last season.

Wanderers did the ugly stuff well. They closed down, they got heads to crosses, they cleared and made good decisions in their own penalty box – simple pleasures which once again hark back to the promotion defence of last term.

Shrewsbury’s home form has been excellent, and you could see why they have climbed the table since visiting the UniBol in early October. Ex-Bolton man Josh Vela looked in good nick, regularly finding space behind John on the right and linking up with Elliott Bennett. Daniel Udoh impressed again, getting similar joy by drifting out to the left.

James Trafford had to push a couple of bouncing shots around his post but otherwise the Manchester City loanee was in organisation mode, his communication once again shining through on a day when it was entirely necessary.

Wanderers’ ethos for most of the current campaign has been to attack; if an opponent scores two, Bolton can score three. Slowly the confidence drained, and such an approach no longer became practical. Shrewsbury is the birthplace of Charles Darwin, so it seemed entirely fitting that this should be where the team showcase their evolution, a compromise which should allow that bravado to build again.

It is certainly tempting to think that a midfield with the inclusion of Kyle Dempsey – still agonisingly out of reach at Gillingham – would be a delight to watch.

But even though Evatt’s side has sacrificed some of its swagger to integrate new players, there were still moments of good quality, especially when Afolayan came on to combine with Charles.

Even putting aside his wonderful winning goal, Bolton’s new number 10 had put in a shift which would have endeared him to those watching behind the goal in the second half.

Shrewsbury’s defence showed the same sort of stubbornness and though Charles and Afolayan managed to test keeper Markosi, there was no spell in the second half when Wanderers could be described as completely dominant.

Amadou Bakayoko could have improved an average day with a near post header at the start of the second half but he eventually gave way for debutant Jon Dadi Bodvarsson with 20 minutes to go, and belief among the away fans went up a notch.

Wanderers were by now playing a fluid front three, Afolayan popping up in every spare patch of turf before being inevitably chopped down by a frustrated defender.

Something had to give. Some of the more cynical folk may well have predicted it would be Bolton. But not this time.

The right flank had been the exclusive domain of Marlon Fossey for the previous 88 minutes – the former Shrews loanee once again looking a thoroughbred athlete as he bombed up and down the touchline – but it was Afolayan’s raid and square ball to the edge of the box which presented Charles with the match-winning chance.

Even after the celebration had died down it was tempting to feel pessimistic as five extra minutes were added on for stoppages.

Afolayan summed up the resolve by chasing into his own corner to block a cross from Vela in the closing seconds. Bolton’s top scorer also happens to be one of the team’s hardest workers.

And then Charles Breakspear’s whistle blew. Dion Charles’s name did not leave the away end for several minutes and one would predict got a reprise on every coach, car and train heading back towards Lancashire.

This was not the perfect performance but moments like this are what keeps people coming back.