Stripped of the suspended Jason Lowe and the injured Liam Bridcutt, Bolton already looked like a patched-up team before a ball was kicked.
They played like one in desperate need of strengthening during the January transfer window, too.
Even leading 2-0 after 11 minutes there was no complete confidence that Wanderers would go on and secure three points.
Joe Dodoo’s strike was well-taken, likewise Daryl Murphy’s seventh goal of the season a good example of his ability to be in the right place at the right time but at the other end, there was a worrying defensive fragility that would soon be laid bare.
The Whites conspired to trail 3-2 at the break, after which Luke Murphy’s red card, issued after a second yellow card for a rather needless pull on an opponent’s shirt, left the team even more vulnerable.
Former striker target Liam Boyce came off the bench to spark a mass exit of Bolton fans 10 minutes from time but perversely the goal served to stir the home side into action, and when Dennis Politic grabbed a third, the final push very nearly paid off.
Keith Hill simply didn’t have the options to cover Lowe and Bridcutt’s absence, and though the appearance of a semi-fit Will Buckley was a bonus from the bench, he will know some serious recruitment must be sorted in the next 10 days before another trip to Rochdale.
The first half was a strange affair, fought out in a deathly-quiet atmosphere with folk perhaps still feeling the effects of welcoming in the new decade.
You could hardly have scripted a better start. Two goals in the first 11 minutes made it look as if it had been the Brewers overindulging.
A magnificent block in front of his own goal by Jake Wright set Wanderers in motion on the counter, with Dodoo picking up the ball on the edge of the box, dazzling his marker with an array of step-overs and then blasting his shot into the top corner.
One became two. Again a well-executed move from back to front as Luke Murphy picked out Dodoo on the right and his low cross was turned into the net from close range by Daryl Murphy for his seventh of the season.
Hard work done, it should have been a case of consolidation from there for Wanderers. But when Templeton came up with a fine finish from 25 yards to drag his team back into the game, any semblance of defensive resolve seemed to disappear from the game.
Acres of space began to appear for both teams, who traded attacks for the rest of the half.
Thibaud Verlinden could have made it three for Bolton, volleying Josh Emmanuel’s deep cross wide of the post.
Moments later Burton got level as Lucas Akins turned Scott Fraser’s bouncing cross into the net at the far post with Bolton’s defenders little more than casual observers.
Referee Scott Oldham took some heat from the home supporters – pretty much the only sign of life in what had been a rather eerie atmosphere to that point – and did not help himself with some fussy decision making.
And the mood got worse when Akins turned Jake Wright with consummate ease on the edge of the box to drill a shot into the bottom corner in stoppage time to give Nigel Clough’s side the lead at the break, Sheffield United loanee Wright has been a fairly steady customer since establishing himself in the side, but his experience should guarantee better.
Wanderers still had ample chance to get themselves back into the game despite looking nowhere near their best – yet their chances were dented considerably when Murphy saw a second yellow.
James Weir and Ronan Darcy were then left stranded as the only recognised midfielders and even after Buckley’s introduction, Bolton failed to play to Verlinden’s strengths after he was moved into a central attacking position.
Burton looked rather disinterested in extending their lead. They passed and probed around the Wanderers box but lacked any penetration – Ryan Edwards’ header the nearest they came to putting the game completely beyond reach.
Hill brought on fresh legs in Politic and Buckley and completely out the blue, nearly conjured an equaliser. Weir’s shot was spilled by O’Hara and Politic nipped in to nudge the ball over the line. Sadly, the linesman cut his celebrations short.
Almost instantly, Burton sub Boyce latched on to a low cross from Fraser, turned past some more soft defending and fired into the net.
Hundreds of fans headed for the exit. But there could have been some embarrassed faces in Middlebrook car park as Bolton suddenly started to throw caution to the wind.
Willed by the remaining fans to throw bodies forward. And the policy worked as Politic drove home a right-footed effort from the edge of the box to trigger a frantic final five minutes.
Darcy so very nearly completed the comeback, volleying over the top from Adam Chicksen’s deep cross. A point may have masked over the problems, though, and Hill faces a major reconstruction job in the coming weeks if he is going to keep this impossible dream on track.