TALK of strong character and never-say-die attitude was understandable – laudable, even – but Wanderers surely knew deep down that they got away with one as they drove away from Sixfields.

The old football cliché tells us that good sides manage to find a way to get a result if they are not playing well, and for 45 minutes that would have been putting it mildly.

One-nil behind, down to 10 men after the dismissal of George Thomason and with Ian Evatt sent off during the half time interval, what Bolton had served up for the 1,500 travelling supporters had been a right load of Cobblers, and no mistake.

They did improve, Carlos Mendes Gomes did grab an equaliser, and with a touch more luck a goal-mouth scramble at the end could have yielded a winner. Er go, they are a good side. But, equally, teams who grab automatic promotion don’t tend to put themselves in such jeopardy and that is what should really be occupying thoughts this weekend as two big home games against Wycombe and Charlton come into view.

It feels as though we will hear more about the two red card decisions, although the club is currently unable to confirm if they will appeal the three-game suspension on offer to Thomason, or presumably a one-game ban for their manager.

It does very little good to denigrate the referee, during the match or after the event. But Carnforth official Simpson added little to the enjoyment of a game that seldom looked completely under his control and often felt like an exercise in over-compensation, as each group of supporters voiced their complaints.

Former PE teacher Simpson has officiated some big games but the fact he had issued 20 cards in his previous two at League One level was a red flag discussed before kick-off, and a concern that proved entirely warranted.

The pantomime villain was Liverpudlian ex-Morecambe full-back Aaron McGowan, who spent his first 20 minutes trying to get a rise out of Bolton’s players, eventually succeeding in getting Victor Adeboyejo a yellow card and walking away from the challenge with a grin on his face.

A few minutes later, he had been felled again. This time the tackle from Thomason was over-zealous, but what contact was made is the matter of some debate. McGowan did eventually leave the pitch – presumably through injury - but not before picking himself up from that particular challenge sporting the same knowing smile.

Northampton were already a goal to the good. Kyle Dempsey and Gethin Jones had dawdled on the edge of the box, leading to a free kick. Marc Leonard’s effort was tipped brilliantly on to the post by Joel Coleman – in for his first league start at the expense of the injured Nathan Baxter – but Kieron Bowie then pounced after yet more dithering in the six-yard box.

Whether it is Ricardo Santos’s absence, Caleb Taylor’s settling in, or something else altogether, there has been an air of uncertainty at the back for Bolton at the start of their last few league games, and it really does need to be ironed out.

Coleman did okay in Baxter’s absence, making a few decent saves on the day. His kicking wasn’t helped by an unpredictable pitch, and nor was Wanderers’ usual style of possession play with Josh Sheehan unable to take control in his usual manner.

Will Hondermarck and Louis Appere went close to doubling the hosts’ lead after Thomason’s exit, and, putting it bluntly, the Whites looked rattled. A point at that stage of the game looked unlikely in the extreme.

As the interval came to a close news reached the press box that Evatt had also been sent off for using “foul and abusive language” in a conversation with referee Simpson. That was strongly denied by assistant manager, Pete Atherton, and other backroom staff after the final whistle – and like the Thomason red may also be subject to an appeal.

Without knowing the facts, it is difficult to pass an exact judgement. Was Evatt wise to approach the official at half time, however calmly that he did it? Perhaps not, especially with the referee already having such an erratic afternoon.

Wanderers brought on Mendes Gomes and Aaron Collins at half time, effectively going 4-2-1-2, and finally started to play their part in the contest.

Collins once again made an immediate impact rolling a delicious cross to Jones at the far post which he somehow failed to turn into the net. The offside flag might have spared his blushes in the end but to the defender’s credit, he then became a constant threat on the right, putting some serious pressure on the Northampton box.

Eoin Toal had also started to bring the ball out more, and the Northern Irishman was desperately unlucky to see a powerful dipping half-volley pushed over the bar by Louie Moulden just after the hour mark.

The Northampton keeper, who like Coleman is Bolton-born, and brother of Wanderers kitman Ted Moulden, could do nothing about what followed, however, as the scores were levelled.

Zac Ashworth’s corner was cleared to the edge of the box and with Ben Fox dwelling momentarily on his clearance, Mendes Gomes got his head to the ball, sending it just inside the post.

For Mendes Gomes it was a moment in the spotlight at last. Wanderers had invested a decent chunk of cash to bring him in from Luton Town last summer but thanks to some minor injury issues and several weeks away on international duty at the African Cup of Nations, it has been difficult to tell whether they got value for money.

Until now a couple of goals in the Bristol Street Motors Trophy was all he had really managed, and though the 25-year-old can play in midfield, up front or out wide, it has been impossible to see exactly where he would be pitch in this Ian Evatt line-up.

It was hard to pick a winner from there. Northampton had a few moments, including captain Jon Guthrie nudging a shot wide from close range after a corner. At the other end, a succession of Bolton players had shots charged down and blocked in front of goal after another Ashworth corner caused panic.

Wanderers had dug deep with 10 men and deserve some credit for doing so. Several players had been way below par in the first half, most had rescued their dignity by the end.

Many will feel that indiscipline had cost them a chance to return to the top two at Derby County’s expense. Northampton were plucky but eminently beatable, even on a soft pitch which didn’t especially suit Bolton’s game.

Wanderers certainly can do without losing players to suspension, and likewise their manager. While the full facts may not yet be available, it is fair to say that both Thomason and Evatt have had their fair share of issues in the past and that neither do themselves a favour by losing their cool at this stage of the campaign.