After all the hullabaloo, fuss and palava surrounding this game what with the return of Dougie Freedman, the uncertainty surrounding Michail Antonio and the fact that Bolton hadn't scored a goal in the league for eons - well, 18th April - a draw was probably the most likeliest of likely outcomes. A point away from home is never one to be sneezed carelessly away but the manner in which this point was salvaged by the Trotters...Christ... it smarts a bit.
With Daniel Pinillos and the exciting Kyle Ebecilio pulling on the red shirts for the first time, Tyler Walker starting, Henri Lansbury getting back to the player we all suspect he can be and Antonio in the starting line-up, optimism was absurdly high between 2.00 and 3.00pm. A left back at left back, a bit of pace up front and a threat of goals from midfield - what could possibly go wrong?
Early signs were encouraging. Pinillos looked like he could make a tackle and seemed to know where to stand for corner kicks and everything. Antonio too looked in the mood as he received the ball dangerously close to his own left back area, controlled it, shrugged off a few white flies surrounding him and was stopped illegally around the halfway line after causing panic in the ranks. Yep - this might just turn out alright after all.
Ebecilio looked assured in his touch too and on the few occasions he lost it, he tenaciously won it back, looking comfortable receiving the ball from Mancienne and linking up with Lansbury neatly regularly. Walker was game and made all the right runs but Lansbury almost always chose to find Antonio out wide. It was only really little Benny Osborn who seemed to trust Walker to hold it up or to try to play him in behind the Bolton defence. Of course, it was a treat to see Benny back in the team and he made the best of a ropey old hand out on the right side of midfield.
The first half was fairly even but Bolton certainly came closest to scoring - Dorian Dervite arching a header just over the bar. Gary Madine was doing a fine job of protecting the ball and laying to off, in spite of the close attention afforded to him by the returning Matt Mills, but hearts remained resolutely and firmly in their place and far away from mouths when he had a shooting opportunity - he never really looked confident of finding the target, even from the penalty spot.
Despite a ticketing policy encouraged to tempt as many Bolton fans to rock up and give it large to Freedman, Forest looked reasonably comfortable and went into the half time break level on terms. Competent at the back and signs of actually moving the ball on the floor through midfield - no doubt this was helped by having players such as Ebicilio and Osborn in the team. A cutting edge up front was lacking though.
Early in the second half, a cross from the right resulted in Zach Clough on the floor. Initially it seemed as if Mills has been a bit clumsy in his challenge but on reflection, the decision looked incredibly harsh. No matter, Madine had not only elected to leave his shooting boots at home, he'd actually chucked them in the black wheelie bin and he meekly provided Dorus de Vries with a back pass of a shot and then headed tamely wide. At this point, facing a team seemingly allergic to scoring, Antonio looking menacing each time he received the ball and in front of a deeply frustrated home crowd, Bolton were there for the taking.
Antonio found himself bearing down on Joe Hart lookalike keeper Ben Amos but like Madine, elected to pass it to the keeper rather than thwacking it like we know he can. Ebecilio was withdrawn for David Vaughan - he looked knackered but looked like a player - as was Osborn for Chris Burke and Burke did what he does by regularly jinking into the penalty area and linking up with Walker and Lansbury. The game as a whole though was something akin to a Pixies song with periods of slow-slow-slow followed by brief periods of hell for leather and then back to slow-slow-slow.
Then on 81 minutes Vaughan found himself drifting in with the ball from wide left. His head was up searching for an outlet but none was forthcoming. He had little option but to wallop the ball beautifully with his left foot, just gently curling it away from Amos. So he did exactly this. In the away end, this signalled the SCREAM part of the aforementioned Pixies song - probably 'Tame' but feel free to go with your own personal favourite. There is a wealth of excellent options.
On 84 minutes, Clough was withdrawn for Emille Heskey - could be dangerous. Two minutes later, Walker was hooked for Danny Fox and Antonio shunted up front on his own. This signalled all out get back and defend mode. On 90 minutes, Stephen Dobbie entered the fray. You know the rest - as inevitable as all pens ceasing to exist when you need to take down an important message or spitting toothpaste all down your tie on the morning of an important interview, Dobbie slammed the ball into the Forest goal after 2 mins and 30 seconds of added time after neat interplay on the edge of the box.
However we have wronged you in the past Mr S Dobbie, we are deeply, truly sorry. Enough is enough, Just stop it now. Please.
It hurt. It really did. To take a late lead against a struggling and goal shy team who were there for the taking - it really hurt. From a Bolton perspective, Prince -Desir Gouano marshalled Walker superbly at the back and Arsenal Loanee Wellington Silva occasionally led the Forest defence on a merry dance. Nonetheless, those signs of progress are still there.
The addition of Ebicilio looks a shrewd one - his ability to receive the ball made Mancienne look more assured in midfield since he almost always had an outlet close by. The Mills and Hobbs partnership looks like a work in progress but is more assured without Kelvin Wlson in that equation. The area of concern remains up front and not necessarily Tyler Walker. What perhaps needs to be addressed is the lack of support for Walker as all too often, he only has Antonio lurking menacingly out wide left somewhere. It is to be hoped that Lansbury and Ebicilio can get forward and make some neat little triangles with Walker in the future.
So, five points from the last three games is encouraging. There are sterner tests ahead and it is a little too early to claim the left back issue has been solved and to put a stop for those pleas to Gary Gardner to come back on loan to solve the defensive midfielder problem. But maybe, just maybe, the club is on the right path to solving these issues. Benny is back, Andy Reid has played a game of football for the under 21s and the defence is approaching something like reliability.
It might, just might, all be ok after all.