UNDER normal circumstances a hard-earned point but with the margin for error so tight a stalemate at Stevenage did not represent an especially Good Friday for Wanderers.

Though there were defeats for Barnsley and Peterborough United, Derby County’s win at home to Blackpool means the Rams have extended the gap on Bolton to six points.

Half a dozen games remain for Ian Evatt’s side to do something about it – and while they are unlikely to come up against a challenge quite as awkward as this one again, they will certainly have to show more creativity.

Wanderers made two changes to the side that had lost against Derby County before the international break, Gethin Jones having picked up a minor knock whilst on international duty with Australia, replaced by Will Forrester, and Cameron Jerome coming in for Jon Dadi Bodvarsson up front – his first league start for Bolton in nearly a year.

The style clash between the two teams was patently clear, Jerome’s inclusion a concession on Ian Evatt’s behalf that his side would have to stand up to a real physical examination.

It was a first half of swirling winds and few hiding places. Stevenage’s set pieces caused a few early flutters and Jordan Roberts had a decent chance early on as one cross dropped to him eight yards out, only to turn a shot narrowly wide.

Jerome has never scored a league goal for Bolton, and would have become the sixth oldest scorer in the club’s history if he had managed to finish off his own hard work in the 13th minute, chasing on to Aaron Collins’ hooked pass, hassling a mistake out of Terrence Vancooten and nudging the ball past keeper Taye Ashby-Hammond, but ultimately running out of room as he attempted to put a shot on goal.

Collins and Nat Ogbeta tried their luck from distance but the home side rarely allowed themselves to be subdued, and Dan Butler’s fine shot from distance was tipped around the post by Joel Coleman at full stretch.

The to and fro continued as Wanderers won a corner at the other end, Ogbeta’s centre headed solidly against the bar by Forrester.

Paris Maghoma’s trickery did cause issues for Boro’s much-changed back line, and when he was tripped on the edge of the box, Josh Sheehan brought another good stop from keeper Ashby-Hammond with a curling shot.

Referee Sam Allinson took a lenient line throughout the first half, particularly on Maghoma’s rough treatment, and he looked Bolton’s best bet to make something happen as the half time interval approached.

Stevenage’s stubborn record this season has rarely seen them beaten heavily and each time Wanderers looked to be getting on top, they replied with something to gee up their own support.

Eoin Toal produced a vital block in front of his own goal after Roberts’ cross had fallen nicely for Jamie Reid. Ricardo Santos – whose work in possession had been hit and miss – showed there was nothing wrong with his defensive skills with another important header.

And Coleman came up with an unorthodox save at the very end of the half having rushed out to claim a cross, he managed to block an angled effort from Nesta Guinness-Walker which was destined for the net.

Wanderers had been unable to play their preferred game, the wind and bobbly pitch putting paid to some of the more intricate stuff. But there were moments of invention which provided encouragement. One such chance was created by Collins moments after the restart, the Welshman’s close control taking him past two defenders before unleashing a dipping shot, sadly, straight at the keeper.

The 1,384 travelling support then rose in unison to claim a handball after Collins and George Thomason combined, the latter clipping a cross which appeared to bounce off Vancooten but potentially at too close a range for the referee to penalise him.

Stevenage’s attacks had started to slow by the hour mark but they were still throwing punches and Reid stabbed one effort wide after Thomason had struggled to clear a cross.

Next it was the home supporters’ turn to aim their fury at official, Allison. A long ball aimed towards Reid caused issues for Toal and as the Northern Irishman stumbled, Coleman racing to the edge of his box to collect, there was a moment of panic as he tried to get enough of his body in the way to guide the ball back.

Home fans wanted a penalty but Allison was unmoved, running over to book one of the Stevenage coaching staff for his protests.

Evatt had called Kyle Dempsey and Bodvarsson off the bench to try and conjure something – desperately needed in the circumstances, with Derby leading at home to Blackpool.

Dempsey did go close with a curling shot after exchanging passes with Ogbeta but Bolton struggled to make anything meaningful and Stevenage started to rally again. Finley Burns had one effort turned wide by Coleman, Toal got another crucial touch in front of his own goal from the corner.

With six minutes left Evatt’s side got a major let-off. Coleman’s ball to Santos was risky enough given the proximity of the attacking players but the captain’s lay-off was pure folly. Roberts nipped in, squared a pass for Thompson, and somehow he rolled a shot wide of goal when it looked easier to score.

Burns smashed another effort inches over the bar in the last few minutes, Bolton’s creativity reduced to fumes as the fourth official showed there would be four more to play.

Stevenage could have managed the game from there but actually kept Wanderers penned in for much of injury time – Forrester making another important clearance – and the final whistle brought appreciative applause, at least from three sides of the ground.

Wanderers had failed to create when they absolutely needed to, their task to reel in Derby now looking tougher than ever.

A point at Stevenage would have been a decent one back in August and September as they built their season but, for Bolton, the need to win games outright is paramount.