Rovers have not won away in League One under Richie Wellens – in fact, they have only scored three goals. It perhaps could have been very different had they – and particularly the returning Jon Taylor – just been sharper in front of goal.
One loss of concentration and a loss of discipline later, the game felt as good as done, even at 1-0. Such is the confidence of this team, setbacks easily become disasters.
In the end, the final bill stood at 3-0. That another 6-0 defeat was avoided was both surprising and very scant consolation.
It was hard not to feel sorry for the 364 people in the away section of a 12,501-strong crowd.
Bolton were rolling out the sob stories before kick-off, unable to fill the bench even with two youngsters on there yet to make a league appearance between them. The sum total of their experience was Mitchell Henry’s four Football League Trophy substitute appearances.
Even with his team driving down easy street with their foot down, Ian Evatt declined to give Henry Arran Pettifer a taste of it last night. Bolton at least tried to be ruthless, Rovers were simply helpless.
The Trotters were hardly likely to get any sympathy from Doncaster. Wellens’s return to the Keepmoat Stadium has been a permanent injury crisis. But whereas Bolton took their punishment for half an hour, then gritted their teeth and fought back, the visiting players seemed to sense the inevitability. They lost belief, then they lost composure and very quickly afterwards they effectively lost the game.
Wellens is a popular figure at the Keepmoat courtesy of his playing career, a fighter dealt a bad hand inheriting a club where a losing rot had set in, handed a budget more in keeping with a different set of Trotters, then watching the treatment room get overcrowded.
Rovers were the better team for much of the first half, and ended it two goals and a man down.
Ethan Galbraith made space for himself but shot wide, and Matt Smith did not get hold of a shot, or put it either side of goalkeeper Joel Dixon. When Galbraith spread the ball wide to Taylor, hugging the right touchline, the winger came inside but shot wide.
The thought of Taylor coming back from injury has been sustaining Rovers through a difficult start to the season, but his wastefulness summed them up.
The game was 25 minutes old when Aidan Barlow did well to win the ball and threaded a lovely pass to Joe Dodoo. Seeing Taylor to his right in acres of space he pulled the ball across but the shot was not even close.
Even then, you worried Doncaster would pay a high price.
Bolton had offered little beyond Declan John’s free-kick curled over the bar but when Joseph Olowu did well to take a cross off former Bradford City striker Eoin Doyle’s head as Bolton got in behind Kyle Knoyle, it was a warning of what was to come.
A minute later former Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday forward Elias Kachunga crossed from the right and as Doncaster’s defenders sat on their heels appealing for offside, Doyle nipped in to gobble the gift.
Wellens was livid, talking himself into his customary booking.
He was not the only one to lose his head.
From the distance of the press box, Olowu’s clip of Dapo Afolayan’s heels looked cynical but not dangerous but as the winger rolled across the turf his angry team-mates kicked off a melee and referee Stephen Martin pulled out his red card.
Tommy Rowe had to be moved from the hole to central defence.
The half was in its fifth added minute when the Trotters poured salt into Doncaster wounds, Afolayan winning space at the byline and presenting a second tap-in, this time for Kachunga.
Somehow the damage was restricted to three, though not because Bolton eased up.
Louis Jones, retaining his place in goal, was utterly stuffed when George Thomason’s shot deflected off Branden Horton, but saw Kachunga miss a great header from a left-wing cross and curl a free-kick just over, beat away an Afolayan shot from distance, saw another deflect wide from the winger in space at the front of a queue of would-be goalscorers, watched him balloon over from yards out and tipped what was probably meant to be a John cross over.
Bolton Wanderers: Dixon; Gordon, Almeida Santos, Aimson, John; Thomason, Lee (Delfouneso 71); Isgrove (Johnston 31), Kachunga, Afolayan; Doyle (Amaechi 71). Unused substitutes: Gilks, Henry, Pettifer.
Doncaster Rovers: Jones; Knoyle, Anderson, Olowu, Horton; Smith, Galbraith; Taylor (Cukur 68), Rowe, Barlow; Dodoo. Unused substitutes: Dahlberg, Hasani, Blythe, Ravenhill, Kuleya, Faulkner.
Referee: S Martin (Hampshire).