RICARDO Santos was sent off as Wanderers took a heavy punch to the guts in their automatic promotion chase at Blackpool.

The centre-half was shown a controversial red card with his side 2-1 down at Bloomfield Road on his return to the side after injury.

George Thomason had put Bolton into an early lead but Jake Beesley and Marvin Ekpieta took advantage of some lax defending to put the Tangerines ahead by the break.

Bolton went into the second half confident they could get back into it, having created – and missed – some big chances in the first 45 minutes.

Referee Josh Smith had been jeered by travelling fans as he walked off the pitch at the interval, and their mood was not improved when he opted to send off Santos, with the penalty then dispatched by Beesley.

Jordan Gabriel then completed the rout with a neatly-taken fourth – Bolton’s only salvation the fact that Derby County also fell to defeat at Barnsley.

Wanderers made three changes to the side that had beaten Cambridge in midweek, bringing Ricardo Santos back for the first time in six league games and restoring Thomason to midfield after his three-game suspension. Zac Ashworth was also preferred to Nat Ogbeta on the left, with the Swansea loanee dropped from the squad.

Evatt’s side made a fine start, taking the lead after just eight minutes when Kyle Dempsey’s cross was cleared to Thomason on the edge of the box and the former Bloomfield Road trainee drilled a shot into the bottom corner at the second attempt.

Bolton looked like extending their lead and Dempsey had a half -chance after Thomason flashed a cross in from the left.

But the Whites were stopped in their tracks after a cheap free kick was given against Josh Sheehan on the left, the ball played into Beesley by Karamoko Dembele, who was able to turn and fire a shot past Joel Coleman with relatively ease.

Travelling fans aimed their frustration at referee Josh Smith but the lack of pressure on the ball in such a dangerous area was criminal, given Wanderers’ dominance at the time.

Jon Dadi Bodvarsson nearly restored the lead immediately, poking Ashworth’s cross towards goal to bring a great save out of Dan Grimshaw. The ball then dropped to Josh Dacres-Cogley at the far post but he failed to get any meaningful effort on target and the chance was gone.

Just as Bolton looked to be getting back on top again, their composure failed at the back. James Husband and Hayden Coulson combined on the left to leave the goal exposed, and after Coleman had managed to keep out the first effort from Beesley, Ekpieta was there to bundle the ball over the line.

The majority of chances before half time were still created by Wanderers. Bodvarsson scuffed one after turning on the edge of the box and Mendes Gomes fizzed another effort just over the bar.

Mendes Gomes had scored his first league goal for Bolton in midweek, a volley which must rank among the best we have seen from Evatt’s side this season. But having had another effort deflected wide, he then put forward a contender for miss of the season.

Dacres-Cogley fired a cross in from the right and, four yards from goal, Mendes Gomes could only tap the ball into Grimshaw’s arms with the entire goal begging.

Blackpool nearly caught Bolton on the break from their own corner just before the interval, Coleman making a big save from Beesley.

Thomason and George Byers then traded half-chances before ref Smith blew for half time to a chorus of jeers from the travelling support.

On weight of chances alone, Bolton could feel slightly unfortunate to be behind. But Blackpool were not wallowing in their own misery, having gone out of the Bristol Street Motors Trophy at the semi-final stage to Peterborough United in midweek.

The Seasiders could have extended their lead twice, sub Kyle Joseph bringing an excellent save out of Coleman and Jones making a crucial headed clearance in front of an unguarded goal after his keeper went walkabout.

Wanderers were still probing for a way back into the game but the clear-cut chances had started to dry up when referee Smith turned an already headline-grabbing performance up to 11.

Another of Blackpool’s half-time replacements, Andy Lyons, got in down the left and took advantage of some rash goalkeeping by Coleman to roll a cross towards the goal. Santos, got back on the cover, stretching to challenge Joseph, and the ball rolled to safety.

Ref Smith pointed to the spot, judging there had been a foul, but then left Bolton’s players jaw-dropped as he handed Santos a straight red card, presumably indicating he did not make an attempt to play the ball.

Beesley blasted the penalty past Coleman to settle the points. The game ambled on, as if numbed by what had happened.

Blackpool made full use of the extra man with a well-crafted fourth on the counter-attack, Dembele playing in Gabriel to rub salt into the proverbial wounds.