THE truth may feel inconvenient to Ian Evatt and Wanderers right now, but they will have to find another gear if they want to escape League One automatically.

It is entirely understandable that the Bolton boss put on a brave face after this unsatisfying point filled to the brim with self-inflicted errors, which left them playing catch-up from early on.

To reprimand his players at this point would serve little purpose. The team has been destabilised with the loss of first choice goalkeeper Nathan Baxter, and to a lesser degree Ricardo Santos, Dion Charles and George Thomason. But now is not the time for a pile-on, or to single out individuals for criticism, this is the business end of the season and Bolton still have a realistic chance of making the top two and meeting the target they set after last season’s play-off defeat at Barnsley.

There is something to be said for a week in which they beat Wycombe, then twice came back from a goal down in the second half to take something – anything – on Saturday evening. Judgement would have certainly been more severe in defeat.

Just as they did against Barnsley and Northampton, Wanderers found themselves having to bridge a gap of their own making. Inconsistency has been an issue, even within the confines of 90 minutes, and while the character and resilience shown over the last few weeks has been admirable, you wonder if it is sustainable, particularly against the better sides in this division?

Portsmouth and Derby have also lost key men of late and both promotion rivals have experienced dips in form. Particularly in Pompey’s case, they have recovered impressively.

Wanderers still have games in hand, their comfort blanket as such, but if they continue to offer up soft goals in this fashion and play within themselves for large patches, it seems unlikely they will make up the required ground on the two teams above and be forced back into the nervous realms of play-off land.

Having taken the lead against a side who had not won any game since the end of November last year, you would have expected the hardest work to be done.

Victor Adeboyejo turned in Zac Ashworth’s cross at the near post for his ninth goal of the season but the striker – picked alongside Aaron Collins for the first time – lasted only until half time because of an eye injury.

Bolton’s lead was briefer still. Thierry Small’s speculative cross from the left dropped over Toal and then bounced apologetically between keeper Joel Coleman, defender Jack Iredale and striker Freddie Ladapo before nestling into the net.

Coleman’s situation is not an easy one. His involvement this season has until recently been completely restricted to the cup competitions before which he had not been named on the bench for 19 of 31 league games. A degree of unfamiliarity, rustiness even, is understandable, however unpalatable.

There were times throughout the game where home fans howled at the keeper to move the ball out from the back quicker, particularly when it was in his hands. And though Coleman delivered a fine save in stoppage time to deny Chuks Aneke, he remains a delicate issue as the last thing Evatt would want is for his only remaining senior goalkeeper to lose confidence altogether.

Around him, Eoin Toal, Gethin Jones and Jack Iredale were all producing a mixed bag, too. Nobody came out with credit after Charlton’s second, scored by Lloyd Jones just before half time, as George Dobson’s corner was scuffed into the net through a sea of statuesque defenders.

Home fans made their feelings known, and the few who had followed the Addicks up from the Capital sounded like they could hardly believe it either.

Wanderers woke from their slumber at the start of the second half and put serious pressure on Harry Isted’s goal. Paris Maghoma has been as inconsistent as anyone in the last few weeks but for half an hour provided a lovely reminder of what he is like in full flow.

Dragging Charlton defenders left and right with a snaking run into the penalty box, he curled a delightful equaliser on 51 minutes to set the Whites going again.

Positive vibes flowed around the stadium as anything became possible once again, then 10 minutes later, more pain.

As Charlton launched the ball into the Bolton box, Josh Dacres-Cogley jumped for a header and landed awkwardly. For a beat, defenders stopped and looked at referee Ross Joyce to halt the game, when he didn’t, Small carried on, his shot bouncing off Jones into Daniel Kanu’s path – the striker spinning to score with Iredale unable to make the block.

It is tempting to trot out the old footballing adage about playing to the whistle. But let’s face it, there should have been a whistle.

Referee Joyce twice blew within nanoseconds to allow Charlton keeper Isted to get treatment in the latter stages, which added to Bolton’s frustration. The official did get to grips with the frequent timewasting – and should be commended for doing so – but you cannot shake the fact he got that big call wrong at a vital stage of the match.

Wanderers did get level again, a revived Dacres-Cogley fed by a fine pass from Josh Sheehan, and his cross swept into the net by sub Jon Dadi Bodvarsson with 19 minutes still remaining.

The Whites should have been primed at that point to go and win the game, rendering the conversation about sloppy defending moot. But they could not find the extra bit of quality needed to make it happen.

Maghoma blasted a great chance high and wide after dancing through another few challenges and Gethin Jones put a header agonisingly wide with virtually the last touch of 10 minutes of stoppage time.

Charlton’s jack-in-the-box boss Nathan Jones celebrated the point with surprising aplomb. Wanderers players walked warily around the pitch to acknowledge support knowing full well that their defensive failures, rather than the fightback, would be the topic of discussion for the rest of the weekend.

The return of Santos, Thomason, Charles and Baxter – probably in that order – are lined-up in the weeks to come. And plenty rests on them getting straight back to their best.

Before all that, though, Wanderers have to board the team bus to Cambridge United and show that those remaining can handle the spotlight.