Chris O’Grady missed a late penalty kick as battling Barnsley went down by the only goal at in-form Bolton.
Former Owls hit-man O’Grady looked confident enough as he stepped up to hopefully earn the Reds a well-deserved share of the spoils at the Reebok Stadium, but the club’s leading scorer struck the outside of the right-hand post as a potentially priceless point went begging.
It was a sickening blow for the now rock-bottom Reds’ noisy travelling army, but manager Danny Wilson remained as upbeat as was possible after the game as he saluted the continuing efforts of his team who won’t give up on the Championship without one hell of a fight.
Barnsley prop up the division again, but Wilson said: “Of course Chris O’Grady’s devastated back there, it was an important penalty miss.
“All the team are devastated, but we’ve got another massive game at Charlton on Tuesday now, and we’ve got a great chance to win there.
“I was delighted with the overall performance, and we probably deserved more than a point - I thought we did enough to have won the game.
“We upped the ante in the second half and created chance after chance.
“I just can’t ask for anything more from the lads. We’ve had another stonewall penalty decision go against us - in fact there were quite a few of the referee’s decisions that didn’t go for us.
“That bit of luck has deserted us once again, but we can still get out this.”
Wilson made two changes to his starting line-up following the midweek defeat at the hands of Premier-League-bound Burnley.
Kelvin Etuhu was back from suspension so he slotted back into the right-back position - with Ryan McLaughlin shifting into the midfield - while Liam Lawrence was back after recovering from a calf strain.
Midfielder Jacob Mellis dropped to the bench, while Martin Woods didn’t even make the matchday squad.
Influential centre-back Martin Cranie was also back among the replacements after missing six games with a hamstring injury.
No-one was sure whether Bolton boss Dougie Freedman was feeling experimental. His side were now safe following an impressive run of three wins and two draws from the previous five matches, but still the Scot made six changes to the starting 11 which had won at Doncaster in midweek.
Both centre-backs and both strikers were switched.
However, the first half was a largely disappointing one, played amid a surprisingly subdued atmosphere.
Chances were at a premium, although Stephen Dawson - still clearly happy to lead his charges despite his recent arrest - fired a shot narrowly over the crossbar in the first minute.
Lewin Nyatanga was up for a Dale Jennings corner-kick but headed over the top, before the Trotters finally came alive as the lively Robert Hall saw a superbly-struck drive well saved by the ever-dependable Luke Steele.
Jennings then missed a sitter as the Reds looked to finally profit following their early control of proceedings.
McLaughlin flung in a peach of a cross from the right flank. Jennings darted in to meet the ball, but somehow guided a near-post shot over the top from barely six yards.
Jermaine Beckford and South Korean Chung-Yong Lee went close for the hosts. Then Bolton bagged what proved to be the match-winner at an awful time for the Reds. And it was a route-one effort, with defender Matt Mills lumping up a booming ball from the back into Beckford’s path.
The recalled former Everton, Leeds and Leicester hitman nipped the ball past Steele before rolling it into an unguarded net.
O’Grady was twice denied by keeper Adam Bogdan as the Reds pressed for a leveller early in the second period, before McLaughlin was twice guilty of heading wide from close range - both from superb left-wing crosses from the impressive Jennings.
Jennings himself then saw a low drive pushed round the post by Bogdan, and it was looking as though the visitors’ big chance to rescue a precious point was gone. However, with seven minutes to go that chance finally arrived when McLaughlin was tripped by Alex Baptiste in the box and referee James Adcock pointed straight to the spot.
The Reds fans celebrated behind the goal where the penalty was to be taken, but the big striker, normally so reliable from the spot, struck the woodwork and the visitors’ chance was gone.
The visit to Charlton tomorrow now takes on even greater significance with Wilson’s men five points from safety with just five games remaining.
Hero: Stephen Dawson. Despite his off-field worries following his recent arrest, the Dubliner continues to drive his team forward from the heart of the midfield. Villain? Chris O’Grady had the chance to earn the Reds what would have been a deserved point, but he fluffed his lines. Penalty-takers should at least hit the target.