IT is hard to imagine any other side could delight and frustrate in such staggering doses quite like Bolton Wanderers.

Their Jekyll and Hyde season was summed up in 90 minutes against Northampton Town – a performance that burned brightly and briefly but ultimately fizzled out to leave scope for criticism, even disappointment.

It is important at this early stage of the analysis to underline that Bolton DID win the game. The result puts them fourth in the table and five points behind the automatic promotion spots. We are hardly dealing in disaster, here.

But it is very difficult to know exactly where you stand with Ian Evatt’s Wanderers right now, a team which can look like world beaters in one half and mid-table fodder the next.

For half an hour, or so, on Saturday afternoon it appeared that Bolton were about to supply a footballing middle finger to the critics who had seized so readily on defeat against Carlisle United and lingered through the international break.

The standard of football in that spell was sensational as midfielders Aaron Morley, Josh Sheehan and George Thomason took it in turns to spin and find gaps with their passing, wide men Josh Dacres-Cogley and Randell Williams galloped freely down the wings, and front two Dion Charles and Vic Adeboyejo looked like they were in for a feast.

This was what Evatt talks about in his most hyperbolic moments. This was free-flowing, expansive football from a team that looked a class apart.

To be hyper-critical, two goals hardly told the tale of how dominant Bolton had been in the first half. There had been a few missed chances, bad decisions, and the tempo had dropped a little but the narrative of the game at that stage simply did not seem to include a Northampton comeback in any way, shape or form.

There was a flurry of half-chances at the start of the second half, too. Had one been converted, Wanderers might have regained the swagger and gone on to make the score-line more convincing. Instead, nervousness started to spread like a virus, through Evatt’s players and then three sides of the stadium. Every mis-placed pass drew a stunned gasp, each time a defender dwelled on the ball, an angry roar urged him to get moving forward.

Sensing their chance, Northampton suddenly started to play. Jordan Willis’s introduction at the break certainly helped, as did the arrival of ex-Burnley man Ali Kolki on the hour.

Ricardo Santos was back in the side having missed the previous five games with a hamstring injury and his handling of striker Tyreece Simpson in the first half was exemplary. There were a couple of occasions where rustiness was evident, though, and sloppy passing at the back only heightened the sense of frustration around the ground.

Gethin Jones’s inclusion had also been a big talking point before the game, his experience preferred to Will Forrester on the right side of the back three. During the first half he stepped out from the back to good effect, sparking some fine combinations and twice getting himself a shot on goal. After an early header in the second half, however, he was boxed in by Sam Hoskins, whose header on 66 minutes gave the Cobblers an unlikely route back into the match.

With few exceptions, Bolton’s players started to waste possession with alarming regularity, slipping into survival mode as if the game had gone into injury time. Had the visitors owned the nous or quality, they had plenty of time to get themselves level.

Evatt tried to shake things up by bringing on Paris Maghoma for the tiring Aaron Morley and swapping his front two for Dan Nlundulu and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson. None of the three did much to push their claim to be in the starting line-up on Tuesday night at Wycombe, where improvement on the second-half performance is now an absolute must.

Thankfully, Northampton – for all their bluster and a few long throws towards the very end, created very little. Bolton held out, not that there should have been a shred of doubt about the outcome of the game in the first place.

It may seem rather entitled to win a game and then complain about ‘how’ you won it. Were Bolton to do the same at Adams Park in midweek or Charlton’s Valley next weekend, the result would probably be shouted from the rooftops. But then nobody said football was a logical sport.

Evatt conceded after the final whistle that his side had played within themselves, probably “70 to 80 per cent” of what they can produce thus far this season. And if that is correct, and the Bolton boss does find a way to unlock that extra performance and potential, the path to automatic promotion seems achievable.

Certainly, if this team can find a way to replicate how they played in the opening half an hour against Northampton on a more regular basis, we can start mapping out the Championship return right now.

But it isn’t that easy. Bolton have blown hot and cold, the mentality to kill teams off completely when they are dominating games does not seem to be there. And that has to be a concern.

To get out of League One Wanderers will need more than a half-hour highlights reel. Evatt has to drill down and find out exactly why such inconsistency has cropped up within games or run the risk of it costing him points against teams who are better equipped than the Cobblers to cause damage.

Wycombe certainly won’t give them time to figure it out on Tuesday night. Hospitable hosts until you actually walk out on to the pitch, they will thrive on any signs of vulnerability, given half a chance.

Wanderers truly believe they are good enough to go up automatically this season, but they missed out on a chance against Northampton to convert a few more believers. Were they to roll up their sleeves and get a first-ever win at Adams Park, they might stand more of a chance.