In truth it was a game in which the hosts absolutely dominated from start to finish and, with better end product, should have won comfortably, but Bolton will be disappointed not to have been going home with all three points having conceded so late.
After securing four points from the previous two games, Phil Parkinson unsurprisingly named an unchanged starting eleven, with Adam Armstrong and Sammy Ameobi providing wide support to both Gary Madine and, potentially more importantly, their full-backs given Fulham’s wing threat.
The hosts began the game on the front foot, with Cairney in particular pulling the strings, while Bolton offered moments of promise largely through some impressive high pressing by Josh Vela. But Fulham carried a constant threat, in particular down the flanks with both full-backs Ryan Fredericks and Ryan Sessegnon bombing forward allowing their wingers the freedom to roam.
Indeed, it was one of those wingers Floyd Ayite who came closest to an opener in the early stages, as he scored from a lovely Cairney through ball only to see his effort ruled out for offside. A rare attack saw Armstrong cut inside and fire a shot wide, but Bolton attacks, never mind chances, were few and far between.
However, just before the half-hour mark and completely against the run of play, Bolton took an unlikely lead. Ben Alnwick launched one of the many Bolton long balls downfield, Gary Madine went down under a challenge (one of countless decisions not given in his favour by the referee) and the Fulham defence stopped. The one man awake to the situation was Ameobi, who raced onto the bouncing ball, brought it under control, fought off weak challenges from Tim Ream and Ryan Sessegnon and turned the ball into the bottom right hand corner of the net. It was a lovely composed finish by the big winger, and just a second Bolton away league goal all season.
The goal only resulted in more possession for Fulham, who were causing all sorts of problems in wide areas, with the biggest threat coming from Fredericks bombing down the right flank. But, luckily for us, he was struggling to pick out players in the box despite walking past Andrew Taylor at will.
Cairney’s passing was a continuing concern but his teammates’ profligacy in front of goal was keeping Bolton in the game. The midfielder teed up forward Abdoulaye Kamara - who brilliantly requested the squad number 47 so he could be known as AK47 - but luckily his shooting was erratic, and he somehow skewed the ball well over the bar. The same man went close again just before the break as he cut inside David Wheater, but shot wide once more.
Fulham had enjoyed 74% of possession and were cutting through our defence in wide positions at will, but somehow Bolton held on and head into the break leading 1-0.
The second half promised more of the same, and Bolton’s cause wasn’t helped by Taylor mysteriously collapsing in a heap just 10 seconds into the restart, completely off the ball, which saw him replaced by Antonee Robinson. But, as Robinson was waiting to come on and having just naughtily taken a quick free-kick knowing Robinson was ready to replace Taylor, Fulham attacked the vacant left-back position and went close with a Fredericks strike into the side netting.
Minutes late Madine volleyed over - which I’m pretty sure was his only shot of the match - then Sessegnon caused a couple of problems down the Fulham left, the first well dealt with by Little and the second resulting in his low shot being well saved by Alnwick. Bolton then went down the other end and went close through the lively Armstrong, who saw his own shot well saved by David Button.
Fulham should have been level on 67 minutes amid an almighty scramble in the Bolton box, during which I’m still not quite sure what happened or how they didn’t score. Fredericks once again beat Robinson and Armstrong with ease, put a low cross into the box that bounced around the box and should have been converted by Oliver Norwood, then substitute Neeskens Kebano skied it miles over the bar.
With time running out Wanderers were handed two glorious opportunities to double their lead. Firstly, great pressing high up the pitch by Madine and then Vela saw Button miskick a clearance straight into the path of Armstrong who, from some 30 yards out, managed to skew his placed shot wide of the near post with the goal gaping. Then minutes later, Karl Henry did well to break up a Fulham attack and Bolton were away on the counter but substitute Filipe Morais somehow managed to place his pass way out of the path of Adam Armstrong’s run. We should have scored from one, if not both, of those opportunities.
From that moment on it was completely one direction football and, to be honest, you just knew an equaliser was coming eventually. Alnwick pulled off a great save to deny the completely unmarked Kebano one-on-one, Vela made a superb block to deny Kevin McDonald’s shot, then two free-kicks in great positions were smashed straight into the wall.
The more opportunities Fulham missed the more it felt like it was going to be our day, but when the fourth official’s board was raised and inexplicably - for a half of minimal stoppages - showed six minutes of added time, we knew there was a late equaliser incoming. And sure enough, it came four minutes into that added time as McDonald was somehow allowed to run around the Bolton defence and float a cross over for Cairney to head home from close range.
It was a cruel blow for a Wanderers team that had worked tirelessly for 96 minutes, but if you’d offered me a point before the game I’d have bitten your hand off. Obviously to miss out on three points so late hurts, but Fulham were more than worth a point given their total domination of the game - reflected by them enjoying 77% of possession. The ease with which Fulham were able to carve open opportunities down our flanks and their total domination of possession was a major concern, and on other day we could have lost by five or six. So we’ll absolutely take a point from it.
Next up for Wanderers is a huge visit to Sunderland on Tuesday night, in which victory would see us climb off the bottom of The Championship and potentially up to the dizzying heights of 22nd.