A MATCH played more on sand than grass but not a flip-flop in sight, Wanderers simply won’t give this season up prematurely.

We all wondered how those dropped points against Morecambe and Plymouth would affect Bolton mentally, particularly when coupled with frustrating news that Marlon Fossey’s campaign was over.

Some called for experimentation, to write off the last eight games and focus on next season. But Ian Evatt was not having a bar of it. And thankfully, neither was his squad.

This was as clunky and cumbersome a Bolton performance as there has been in Evatt’s 99 games in charge of the club and yet Amadou Bakayoko’s late winner also made it feel one of the most rewarding in the end.

The standard of football matched that of the playing surface. Considering Crewe’s rich history for passing football and technically proficient young players, it is a crime that talents like Callum Ainley and Tom Lowery are having to hone their game on such a sand pit.

Wanderers have fallen to bits on pitches like this before. But unlike Burton there was no ‘mad 10 minutes’ in defence, in fact, Will Aimson and George Johnston barely put a foot wrong which was quite the feat in the conditions.

Barring a small error from Ricardo Santos, which allowed Bassala Sambou a route into James Trafford’s goal in the second half, this was the kind of rugged, downright ugly type of game in which Evatt’s Bolton have almost always underperformed.

Aesthetically there very little to enjoy. Whistle-happy referee Sam Purkiss interrupted what little flow there was to the game until half time and Bolton’s more technical players like Dapo Afolayan and Aaron Morley, appeared to be playing a game completely foreign to them.

The game was further delayed to allow one Bolton supporter to have some medical treatment, although local police say the man in question stayed to watch the rest of the game – and he might be glad he did.

Things picked up in the second period and Crewe keeper Dave Richards produced some spectacular work to deny Afolayan after he got on the end of Aimson’s cross.

MJ Williams blasted one over the top, Santos also worked Richards and Afolayan struck the base of the post with a low shot which seemed to catch the Crewe keeper off-guard.

Evatt changed things from the bench, bringing on Bakayoko, Elias Kachunga and the fit-again Kyle Dempsey but time was running out, and Santos nearly allowed Sambou to steal a completely unwarranted goal with the type of lapse in concentration he simply has to iron out of his game.

Fans scanned their memory banks for the last time this side drew 0-0, as that was clearly the way things were heading. A point would have killed any play-off hopes stone dead and would have tested Evatt’s claim that his players’ minds would be nowhere near the beach until May.

Kachunga then signalled a last push. His belligerence on the edge of the box ended with a foul, and a free kick that looked very much in Kieran Sadlier’s range.

The midfielder, signed from Rotherham in January, had been shifted to the right as a makeshift wing-back and had not found the going easy. This type of set piece was right in his wheelhouse, though, and after his shot struck the post, George Johnston did well to keep the ball alive, crossing low for Bakayoko to artistically guide his shot past Richards.

The game won’t make any of the highlight videos in League One this season but the celebrations just might. Fans spilled on to the pitch in joy as a smiling Bakayoko, bathed in the spring sunlight, turned to salute his adoring public.

Quite how a moment so beautiful can come out of a game so gruesome, God only knows, but the defence held out for a few more minutes of injury time to claim three points that just about kept the play-off flame flickering.

The whole thing will be decided outright by the outcome of the next three games – or potentially just the one. Wanderers go to Wigan on April 2 looking to avenge a dreadful display earlier this season in front of their home fans.

If, by some chance, the Whites can take three points from the DW Stadium against a side surely destined for the Championship, then they will deserve an extra life in the chase for a top six spot. If not, then the guts and courage displayed here at the Mornflake Stadium need to be stored and honed because they will come in mighty handy next season.

Bakayoko left the pitch to his new serenade. There is no guarantee he will ever get “20 goals” in a season for Bolton Wanderers but the big man has developed a canny knack of scoring the ones that matter.