WANDERERS finally made it a Good Friday by clinching their first win at the start of a long Easter weekend since 1963.
Kieran Sadlier sunk his former club with a fine far-post volley just seconds after Rovers had hauled themselves back into the game with an equaliser from Reo Griffiths.
Amadou Bakayoko had opened the scoring early in the second half – but the Sierra Leone international might have considered himself a bit fortunate to still be on the pitch after a poor tackle on Adam Clayton had the home crowd howling for a red card.
Doncaster needed a win to give themselves hope of survival but now trail Gillingham by six points with three games to play and, in all honesty, look destined for League Two.
Wanderers, meanwhile, now have a real chance to finish in the top 10 if they can stay on a winning run at home to Accrington on Easter Monday.
Bolton had not won on Good Friday since beating Leyton Orient in 1963, a time when Summer Holiday was still on the cinema screens and Gerry and the Pacemakers were topping the charts.
Wanderers made two changes to the side which had draw against Sheffield Wednesday, bringing Bakayoko into the attack for Dion Charles and George Thomason in for Elias Kachunga – the young midfielder making his first start since January 11.
Wanderers haven’t always been at their most threatening in the opening 15 minutes this season, and particularly on their travels. But given an invitation to attack by a nervous looking Doncaster back line they pinned their hosts back with comparative ease in the early stages.
Keeper Jonathan Mitchell made one scrambling save at the feet of Thomason in the first few minutes but was then left hopelessly exposed by a poor Josh Martin pass a few moments later, offering Bakayoko a chance on the right edge of the penalty box with the goal unguarded. The Bolton man opted to pass but got his angles wrong, allowing Ro-Shaun Williams the chance to clear.
Bakayoko then got another clear sight of goal, powering a header over the bar after Declan John had laid on the chance with a header of his own from Aaron Morley’s deep cross.
Sadlier, booed at every touch by the fans who used to sing his name, offered Bolton good width down the right side. His move to Rotherham two years ago was clearly still an issue with some but his quick feet started to look like Bolton’s best route to a first goal as Rovers started to gain their own momentum.
James Trafford made two saves from Martin but could have done nothing had Tommy Rowe kept his shot six inches lower after latching on to a good angled ball from Aidan Barlow.
MJ Williams and Thomason had picked up early yellow cards for relatively cheap fouls in midfield, with ref Scott Oldham determined to stamp out any cross-county rivalry out of this one early on. Ian Evatt’s heart must have skipped a beat, however, when his burly striker Bakayoko lunged in from behind to prevent Adam Clayton from making a clearance on the edge of the penalty area, sparking furious calls for him to be sent off, in the stands and on the pitch.
In the end, Oldham showed leniency. Bakayoko’s body language suggested he knew he had been given an extra life, of which he would later take maximum advantage.
Wanderers still had chances to take a lead into half time. Bodvarsson was denied by some brave goalkeeping from Mitchell, and Morley had a good effort blocked after more trickery on the right from Sadlier.
But Rovers – desperate for points in their survival bid – will also point to a big chance missed by Barlow, who had run on to a great lay-off from Reo Griffiths 10 yards from goal and somehow managed to slide his shot wide.
At the interval it was hard to say which way the game would fall but within two minutes of the restart, Wanderers had claimed a crucial advantage.
Bodvarsson had looked lively in the first half, never letting Doncaster’s defenders settle, and it was his pressure which hassled a mistake out of Kyle Knoyle on the Bolton left, the Icelander racing towards the penalty box before rolling a cross for Bakayoko to crash home from close range.
To Doncaster’s credit, their heads did not drop. Trafford made a superb save from close range to deny Barlow before Will Aimson produced some resourceful defending, just as it looked like Reo Griffiths would have a tap-in from six yards.
Bakayoko’s withdrawal for Dion Charles produced a predictably negative reaction from the home support, who felt his game should have ended sooner. But as the desperation started to creep in and results from elsewhere started to filter through, the Bolton fans gleefully took their opportunity to remind their opponents of their league position, just as Rovers had done on their last visit in February 2020.
Their celebrations were a might on the premature side, however, and after Trafford had produced more brilliance to turn away a Knoyle free kick with the outside of his hand, Griffiths finally landed a killer touch to equalise after Bolton had momentarily switched off in defence.
The drums high in the South Stand hardly had a chance to start beating before Wanderers snatched the lead again.
Dapo Afolayan had been on the pitch a matter of seconds but galloped into his favourite territory on the left, looping a cross which was cracked into the roof of the net by Sadlier at the far post.
It was a finish every bit as ruthless as the chants that had been pouring from the away end before the equaliser and the drama didn’t stop there.
Subs Ethan Galbraith and Mipo Odubeko drove efforts narrowly wide but as the minutes ticked down, the belief had clearly started to drain from the stands, just as any quality had done from the home players on the pitch.
Afolayan briefly threatened to go it alone for a third goal, ripping through on the right during injury time before cutting a ball back for Morley, who cleared the bar with his effort.
Wanderers held on comfortably during six minutes of time added on to leave more than 2,500 travelling supporters singing Ian Evatt’s name at the final whistle.