MORE than an hour into this unpredictable game Wanderers were 1-0 up, top of the league, their raucous away following belting out all the hits… oh, how quickly footballing fortunes can change.

There should have been no doubt about where the points were heading at that stage – Ian Evatt’s side had created enough clear-cut chances, and though Dion Charles had scored with arguably the toughest of them, he, Victor Adeboyejo and others were unfortunately wasteful with the rest.

Reading had been sprightly considering the week they had, their young, pacy team constantly pecking away, never allowing Wanderers to strangle them with possession. Docked three points by the EFL for the failure of their owner, Dai Yongge, to satisfy EFL demands on the payment of wages, they have inherited the ‘crisis club’ moniker once bestowed on the Whites, but there was no suggestion on the pitch that they were going to dwell on misfortune.

That the Royals got themselves level with Charlie Savage’s low drive in the 77th minute was frustrating but not a disaster. The truly worrying thing was what happened next.

Bolton lost goal-scorer Charles to a shoulder injury and both Adeboyejo and Randell Williams were flagging in the heat. Evatt made changes, bringing on Jack Iredale, Dan Nlundulu and Cameron Jerome, his substitutions had negligible impact.

Of course, Reading were buoyed by their goal, but it is a truly troubling pattern that has developed at Wanderers over the last six or seven games, which casts some serious doubt on the manager’s belief that his squad depth is sufficient to drive an automatic promotion chase.

From the 78th minute onward, only one team looked capable of scoring. And Reading did, as teenager Caylon Vickers prodded in his first senior goal with four minutes left on the clock, giving a crowd who had come to make a valid point against an onerous owner a reminder of the joyous moments they were fighting for.

Wanderers’ boisterous 1,700 strong travelling support had been in excellent voice for so much of the afternoon, but they were stunned into virtual silence through seven minutes of stoppage time, which included a soft red card for Eoin Toal, the league table now showing their team in seventh, outside the play-off spots.

Bolton had crumbled under pressure, and with the talismanic Charles wincing in pain on the bench, clutching his shoulder, there is every right to be worried about what this all means for the team in the short-term.

Neither experienced campaigner Jerome nor summer signing Nlundulu has produced anything convincing in their limited time on the pitch, while Jon Dadi Bodvarsson – thrown on in desperation after 89 minutes – is also looking a shadow of his former self at present.

Evatt has repeatedly backed his strikers to supply enough goals, and for all the hurt swirling around after this defeat, the facts are that Charles and Adeboyejo have shared 10 between them. Before kick-off, only Barnsley’s Devante Cole had been involved in more goals than Adeboyejo, whose link-up play with his strike partner was impressive, even if that crucial end-result deserted him.

It is also a fact that in 560 combined minutes of football, Nlundulu, Bodvarsson and Jerome have not yet scored, and Nlundulu is the only man to have put a shot on target. With that in mind, it is easy to understand the concern currently felt around the fanbase that Evatt’s faith in his ‘finishers’ is not necessarily being reflected in their performances.

Toal’s suspension plus injuries to George Johnston, Joel Coleman, Paris Maghoma, Dan Ashworth, Carlos Mendes Gomes and now – potentially – Charles leaves the squad looking worryingly thin and begs the question as to whether more players should, or could, have been signed in the window?

Wanderers spent reasonable sums on Nlundulu, Gomes, Adeboyejo and Co, cementing other players in extended contracts. It is fair to say that some of those decisions have yet to bear fruit.

Evatt has lived with expectation since his first day in the club, and whether he and his superiors made a rod for their own back by stating automatic promotion as the solitary aim this season remains to be seen. The ammunition to win games like this is certainly being supplied but one can question whether the hardware is sufficiently reliable.

Had Adeboyejo beaten David Button with one of two presentable chances in the first half, this would have been an argument for another day.

The game had been open, refusing to settle, as if waiting for the moment the tennis balls rained on to the pitch in protest. Sure enough, a job lot of Sports Direct’s finest was launched on 19 minutes, and within 60 seconds of the restart Charles produced a pin-point finish from a tight angle to open the scoring.

George Thomason was again outstanding for the Whites, his work-rate to retrieve possession and distribute the ball is getting better with each week, but there was an unusual slowness about some others, as if an international break had taken the edge off the intensity they had shown against Derby County.

Femi Azeez shaved the bar for Reading and debutant striker Dominic Ballard had a couple of half-decent chances close to goal but Wanderers created the big opportunities. Toal had one header hooked off the line, Charles and Adeboyejo will wonder how they did not add to their own tally.

After the break Bolton enjoyed a short spell of control where, once again, they could have spared themselves the pain to come. They could have had some help from referee Lee Swabey, whose decision-making on the day was also hard to predict. Charles will wonder how defender Sam Hutchinson was not issued a red card – when he chased on to a long ball and appeared to be tripped en route to goal. Ref Swabey awarded a free kick to Reading, much to the confusion of near enough everyone in the stadium.

Gethin Jones, Josh Dacres-Cogley, Adeboyejo and Josh Sheehan were involved in one flowing move down the right to present a chance to Charles, steered agonisingly wide of the post. The Northern Ireland international was also hurt in the process, damaging his shoulder, and was forced off as a result.

Nathan Baxter had made a few smart saves, the best of which was to top over a blast from Azeez, but he could do nothing about Savage’s drive that got plucky Reading back in the contest.

Sub Vickers ripped up the afternoon’s narrative with his winning goal – and Toal’s second yellow in stoppage time means he will not be available for next weekend’s game against Peterborough United.