WATCHING Wanderers fall short on every conceivable level against Burton, it was difficult not to fear for their Championship safety.

Phil Parkinson’s side has not made believers out of absolutely everyone since gaining their first league win against Sheffield Wednesday in mid-October but had at least given the illusion of a team which could get results when it really mattered. One would argue this was such an occasion, and they failed entirely.

The man who did the damage is well-known to Bolton fans. Lloyd Dyer – Burton’s evergreen 35-year-old – seems to reserve his best form for each time he meets them.

The former Leicester winger beat an unsighted Ben Alnwick with a scruffy shot from the edge of the box which summed up perfectly a match of little quality.

Up to the 23rd-minute goal, there had been some reason for optimism. Wanderers had set a good tempo and both Will Buckley and Karl Henry had sights of goal, only to angle their shot straight at the magnetic Stephen Bywater. After falling behind, the response was weak and disappointing.

Burton’s game-plan was simple, defend on the edge of their own box and rely on the pace of Dyer, Lucas Akins and Marvin Sordell, the striker who once cost Bolton £3.2million, on the break. It worked, and exemplifies why Nigel Clough’s side have been more effective on their travels this season than at home.

Parkinson had forewarned his players they would have to be patient. He knew the Brewers would set up economically, yet starting the game with Darren Pratley and Karl Henry sitting deep in midfield and Gary Madine standing alone up front seemed to play into the visitors’ hands.

Wanderers were without Adam Le Fondre, suffering from tonsillitis, and his poaching qualities would have come in very handy late in the game. Mark Little – replaced by the more defensive-minded Stephen Darby – and Adam Armstrong also pulled out of the squad through injury, which limited the amount of pace out wide and, oh, how it showed at times.

As a result, picking a way through the sea of yellow shirts was a mind-numbingly frustrating experience. Only Ameobi seemed to possess the tricks necessary to spring the Burton lock, yet getting the ball to him in dangerous positions was all-too rare.

Set pieces are normally a reliable source of opportunities for the Whites, and yet quality deserted them in this area too. Gary Madine wasted two free kicks within seconds of each other to further infuriate the home support before the break.

Wanderers’ big chance to equalise came in the second half when David Wheater met Josh Vela’s corner with a clean header, tipped on to the crossbar by Bywater. The ball bounced down the wrong side of the goal-line and Pratley’s follow-up was somehow guided out for a corner by the Burton keeper and a cluster of diligent defenders.

That near miss briefly raised hope around a small Saturday crowd, who to that point had been grumbling discontentedly into their hoodies and scarves.

It should also have inspired Wanderers to push on and claim a stake in the game. Their response for all but the last few minutes of stoppage time, however, lacked urgency and, most of all, quality.

Parkinson attempted to change things by bringing on Fil Morais for Pratley and putting him at number 10, pulling Vela into a deeper role. The Postman’s astute delivery from free-kicks was a bonus, yet before the end he bizarrely found himself playing right-back as Craig Noone and Aaron Wilbraham were thrown into the mix in hope more than expectation.

The final 10 minutes was played out in a rapidly-emptying stadium, during which even the reliable Morais failed to hit the target with two free-kicks in good range.

Those who stayed behind to witness Andy Madley’s final whistle were not shy of expressing their feelings.

The timing of a result like this could hardly have been worse for a club aiming to convince fans to part with their cash and boost gates. Supporters will only return to see a winning team, playing football to which they can identify.

Parkinson had been getting the first part right at the Macron of late, yet a poor performance like this only provides ammunition for those determined to stay away.

There is, of course, plenty of time to remedy all that. But it will not come cheap.

Wanderers have scrapped back from a terrible start to give themselves a chance but they will still head into the final 23 games of the season in the bottom three, needing a measure of improvement to ensure they do not make a quick return to League One.

Some, including myself, would argue Parkinson deserves the opportunity of a transfer window without restraints where he can target a class of player to make a real difference at this level.

He knows his team does not lack effort, only quality in some areas, and that cannot be done without investment. Loaning untested youngsters, even from the Premier League, might not cut it.

Ken Anderson will certainly have plenty to ponder as he spends Christmas in warmer climes, gearing up for what could be the most important January window since Wanderers toppled out of the Premier League.

Jogging off the pitch towards the end of the game to a chorus of boos was Sordell, a lasting example of what can happen when recruitment goes wrong and a club starts to panic.