Wanderers pulled off a dramatic and stunning second-half salvage job at Cambridge United to put themselves right back in the hunt for automatic promotion.

After a fairly abject first 45 minutes they trailed to Sulley Kaikai’s deflected effort but the second half was a completely different story – Paris Maghoma stabbing the equaliser, and Carlos Mendes Gomes scoring a beautiful volley to seal three points.

Lyle Taylor was sent off for lashing out at Jack Iredale before the end, a suitably frenetic finish to a game that rarely settled into a rhythm. But at the second attempt, Wanderers got what they came for and drew level with second placed Derby.

Wanderers made four changes from the side that drew against Charlton Athletic at the weekend, bringing Carlos Mendes Gomes in for his first league start this season.

The Guinea Bissau international partnered Jon Dadi Bodvarsson in a new-look front two, with Nat Ogbeta and Caleb Taylor also brought back into the starting line-up. Aaron Collins, Victor Adeboyejo and Jack Iredale dropped to the bench, and Zac Ashworth did not make the 18, but did travel.

Bolton have shown a charitable side in recent weeks, conceding early opening goals against Barnsley and Northampton and blowing the lead quickly against Charlton. Sadly, that trend continued at the Abbey Stadium.

No sooner had Bodvarsson seen a left-footed effort pushed aside by Jack Stevens, and Mendes Gomes failed to stab in the follow-up, the home side took the lead.

Ogbeta struggled to contain Kaikai on the left side of the box, with the former Crystal Palace man driving a cross-shot which bounced off Eoin Toal’s boot and looped over Joel Coleman under the bar and into the net.

The left side was a problem area for the rest of the half for Wanderers, and just a couple of minutes later Kaikai was found by a raking ball from Danny Andrew, beating Ogbeta once again, but this time his angled shot was pushed aside by Coleman.

The U’s peppered Bolton’s box with a stream of long throws and – in the main – the penalty box was defended well in an aerial sense. Caleb Taylor had been particularly impressive in the air but he was forced off with an injury before the half was through and replaced by Jack Iredale, wearing a protector on a stitched-up ear.

Wanderers gained a measure of composure in the last 20 minutes of the half but failed to create anything clear cut.

Bodvarsson had a couple of sniffs when linking with Mendes Gomes but both Ogbeta and Josh Dacres-Cogley wasted good crossing positions when they finally got behind a deep-lying defence.

Josh Sheehan and Kyle Dempsey also had shots charged down – the former looking like it would have sailed into the net had it not been for some brave defending from Michael Morrison.

Cambridge didn’t budge in their uncompromising approach, and even ex-Bolton man Elias Kachunga got in on the action with a crunching challenge on Josh Sheehan which put him into the book just before half time.

Wanderers made a positive start to the second half, Mendes Gomes passing up what looked an obvious shot but the ball quickly picked up by Paris Maghoma and blasted across goal before being turned behind for a corner.

The pressure was ramped up as Maghoma had a shot tipped wide by Stevens, who then pushed a deflected effort from Sheehan over the crossbar.

From the resulting corner, Wanderers finally got the breakthrough their pressure deserved. Maghoma got the decisive touch amid a sea of legs, and suddenly the mood of the game was flipped on its head.

But for a brave block from Ryan Bennett, Bodvarsson would surely have put the Whites 2-1 up with a fierce volley from the edge of the box.

They did not have to wait long for another moment of joy, however, as Sheehan produced a delicious chip over the top for Mendes Gomes which was volleyed past Stevens with sublime technique.

The former Luton Town man might have had to be patient for his big moment in a Bolton shirt, but it was well worth the wait.

In fairness, Mendes Gomes should have had a second a few minutes later when found on the edge of the box by Dempsey but he could only slide his shot wide of the post.

Evatt sent on Aaron Morley, Aaron Collins and Vic Adeboyejo hoping to conjure up a priceless third goal but the nervousness was palpable. This was three points they could not allow to leave their grasp.

Goodness knows what got into the heads of Morley and Jones as they played a risky goal kick to the edge of the box and allowed two shots on goal – Brophy’s blocked and a second from Jack Lankester flying just wide of the post.

Had that found the target, there would have been a serious inquest indeed. But the drama wasn’t over by a long stretch.

Wanderers were penned back for a five-minute spell, and as Cambridge surged forward substitutes Iredale and Taylor tangled off the ball in what descended into a pushing match. It appeared that the U’s striker lashed out with his arm – and clearly that action was spotted by the fourth official Aji Ajibola and his linesman, Andy Bennett.

Taylor was sent off, Iredale was booked. The incessant home fans took their frustrations out on referee David Rock but their own side had blown their chance.

Not for the first time, Wanderers had dug deep and found a way to win. Roll on Blackpool.