Ronan Darcy and Dennis Politic scored their first goals for Bolton as Phil Parkinson’s Junior Whites briefly threatened to turn this into a shock.
Wanderers led 2-1 when Politic cleverly converted after half time but the hosts had plenty more left in the tank and finished strong, rattling in four goals in 22 second-half minutes.
The margin of victory felt a bit harsh on a hugely inexperienced Bolton side, albeit one with Jason Lowe, Remi Matthews and Luke Murphy now back in the fold.
There had been a lot of talk pre-match about what reception the returning players would get from travelling fans, especially in a tight stadium where every heckle can be heard.
When the names were read out pre-match the applause was polite but once the match began, any negative thoughts were checked at the door. Once again, the Bolton supporters seemed determined to do their bit.
Matthews put down an early marker with a smart save at close range from Matty Done, who had drifted to the far post to send a stinging volley at goal from Ian Henderson’s chipped pass.
Moments later, Darcy provided a moment of magic to really set off the cup tie.
Receiving the ball in some space 25 yards out, the little playmaker turned, took a touch to get the ball out of his feet and then drilled a shot past a rather slow-reacting Robert Sanchez for his first senior goal.
It also ended any chance this team would set a new record for games without a goal – a statistic which rather crept up on us, given the club’s recent troubles.
Sanchez made partial amends with a decent save from Politic a few minutes later when the Romanian swapped an intricate one-two with James Weir on the edge of the area to get a clear sight of goal.
From there, however, Rochdale’s passing game started to click. They twice hit the bar, first through Done’s thunderous right-footed shot and then Jimmy McNulty’s header.
There could be few complaints that the home side drew level, although the penalty that got them there felt a little on the soft side.
Yoan Zouma had looked solid once again alongside Liam Edwards but after Callum Camps got just the wrong side, his attempt to recover was deemed a foul by referee Andy Haines. Henderson did the rest, sending Matthews the wrong way from the spot.
Wanderers’ fans rallied instantly behind the French defender and were cheering his every involvement by the close of the half once again.
That encouragement also extended to Bolton’s attempts to play through Weir, Darcy and Politic. Not everything came off, and passes most certainly went astray, but there seems to be a general realisation on the terraces that fans have their part to play in guiding the younger players through this embryonic stage of their career. Long may it continue.
Wanderers took those positive vibes into the second half and played some good possession football in the opening minutes before seizing the lead again.
This time it was Politic – showing he has more strings to his bow than long-range shooting – who tracked down on-loan Blackburn defender Tyler Magloire, stole the ball, drove into the box and smashed his first Bolton goal past Sanchez.
His confidence clearly sky high, and fuelled by a fans’ chant normally reserved for Aaron Wilbraham – sadly missing from the Dale line-up because of a calf injury – Politic then tried two audacious shots from halfway.
Sadly, the hubris could not last. Dale made a double substitution and within three minutes one of the replacements, Rekeil Pyke, finished off a quality counter with a neat header from Stephen Dooley’s cross.
Just two minutes passed before Camps gave his side a lead they never surrendered. The midfielder had picked up dangerous positions around the penalty box all evening and produced a crisp finish that effectively ended the contest.
Wanderers continued to fight. Lowe made a great goal-line clearance from Oliver Rathbone, Matthews another save, but the home side had their tails up. A fourth goal arrived, Camps scoring in almost identical fashion to his first.
Wanderers suffered after Liam Edwards went off with an ankle injury and Dale threatened to make it a hammering.
Striker De’Marlio Brown-Sterling made his debut from the bench with 12 minutes left, replacing the tireless Eddie Brown. Fans, struggling to fit his name into a chant, opted to sing a previous owner of the 39 shirt, a certain Nicolas Anelka.
Ollie Rathbone then headed a fifth, another smart move it must be said, leaving the young Bolton players looking slightly inconsolable.
Fans appreciated their efforts nevertheless. For that is the way right now.
They cheered every player off the field again as if Bolton’s name was in the hat for the next round. One can only hope their good mood continues into the weekend.