It has been uphill all the way for Ian Evatt’s side since February when this scintillating run for promotion began in front of the barren empty stands of League Two.
Trapped in a lockdown existence, games have been streamed over the internet like a reality TV show, the connection between club and fans so close, but so far away.
More than 8,000 season tickets were sold last summer to fans who had no idea when they would see their team in person again. And the sad reality is that many thousands more have drifted away in recent years as the deplorable actions of previous owners and rank bad management of the football club made Bolton a very difficult team to love.
At some points this season the separation between team and supporters has been a blessing. In better times, however, Evatt and his players deserved the terrace admiration but found public opinion hard to gauge. Social media is an unreliable barometer fraught with problems, and the manager will tell you himself that podcasts are usually no better.
This strange, detached existence meant that most of the Bolton dressing room seemed destined to play out their entire first season to relative silence. Well, at least until around 1.45pm on Saturday.
As the coach turned into the stadium from Westgate at 1.30pm, the players and staff were treated to their first serenade as around 200 fans packed around the entrance to welcome them for their biggest game of the season.
The loud reception was unexpected but wholly welcomed. And in return, when the faithful flocked back from the beer gardens to cheer their heroes back out on the road, Evatt made an important choice.
Rather than following police advice and driving team bus around the stadium – circumnavigating the massed fans – the Bolton boss insisted on saying thanks in person.
And as chairman Sharon Brittan and her sons were being mobbed by well-wishers as they drove out of the ground, Wanderers players stepped up a nearby embankment to salute their supporters from a safe distance, a simple act that meant the world.
This club, one which had nearly been snuffed out completely by negligence and greed, has grown stronger away from the fans’ watchful gaze. So, when the turnstiles are fully operational once again, watch out.
There has always been room for a spot of drama in Evatt’s reign to date. And so it proved again at Morecambe on what could easily have been a routine afternoon.
As predicted, Derek Adams’ side were stubborn opponents, displaying all the obvious League Two tropes – the long throw, the set piece dependency, the aerial threats – but also a few match-winners in the mix.
Sam Lavelle, frozen out by EFL red tape at Bolton four years ago, could have opened the scoring with a powerful header early on. Morecambe will feel they had the better of the opening exchanges but the plan was ripped to pieces when Kelvin Mellor was sent off for a silly reaction to Dapo Afolayan’s touchline challenge.
West Ham youngster Afolayan really is a young man with an edge, his quick feet and pace more than matched by a shrewdness of a player with hundreds more games under his belt.
His canniness and ability to rub opponents up the wrong way has been invaluable in the last few months and after continually getting one-up on the Morecambe full-back, Mellor eventually took the bait.
It has taken Wanderers a while to wise up in League Two but this is concrete proof that they can now give just as good as they get.
Morecambe did anything they could to slow Bolton down from there. Veteran kit man Les Dewhirst was even sent from the bench to collect sterilised ball from the periphery of the pitch so that the game could not be restarted quickly. Thankfully, referee Carl Boyeson and his assistants were wise to the shenanigans.
Home boss Adams then saw fit to get involved with Afolayan as he went to collect the ball near the dugout. The Scot was booked and – in the referee’s only real error of the day – Afolayan inexplicably followed.
Evatt could see what was coming and brought the winger off at half time for Nathan Delfouneso, making absolutely the right call.
By that time, Bolton had forged ahead, too. Jackson had replaced the injured Declan John with distinction, motoring up and down the left and firing in a couple of useful efforts on goal. In the end, a shot struck less sweetly than the rest was enough to beat Kyle Letheren low to his left. Advantage Whites.
Wanderers now needed to go for the jugular. Their propensity to win games by a single goal has become somewhat of a running joke in recent weeks and with Morecambe struggling to get near the ball after the break there could be no better chance to put a few goals on the board.
But this is Bolton. Why do it the easy way?
Jackson tested Letheren again, Ricardo Santos headed wide from a corner, and several promising breaks fell by the wayside with a poor pass or cross.
Subs Zack Elbouzedi and skipper Antoni Sarcevic – back after an eight-game absence with a hamstring injury – sliced through with regularity but just could not find the killer touch.
Wanderers appeared at one stage to be daring Morecambe to get back into the game. And they so nearly did.
As 90 minutes ticked over Matt Gilks needed to make a save with his feet to deny Liam McAlinden, the follow up smashed towards goal by Toumani Diagouraga but blocked on the line by the superb Alex Baptiste.
One-nil to the Wanderers has a certain ring to it, and one more victory will mean League One football next season. Winning the division altogether is not beyond the realm of possibility, in fact, nothing is at Bolton these days.
The club is still at the bottom of the mountain and has accomplished nothing yet – but that joyous sound of supporters connecting with their team as they climbed back aboard the bus should be the motivation for everyone to make sure that they do.
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