Ian Evatt’s men were well on course for three points after Eoin Doyle broke the deadlock with his 11th goal of the campaign on the stroke of half-time.
But just 12 minutes after arriving as a second-half sub, Bolton’s deadline-day signing Maddison was handed a straight red by referee Oliver Langford which completely altered the course of the game.
Whether Maddison got a raw deal is debatable but Wanderers intend to appeal the decision. And they may well have a good argument that the visitors’ reaction, rather than the tackle itself had swayed the official’s decision.
Morecambe huffed and puffed with a man advantage and finally got back on level terms seven minutes before the end through sub Brad Lyons, his free header from one of umpteen late set pieces was especially galling, considering how well Bolton had held out.
Evatt’s side have had little luck with officials this season and it continued against the Shrimps, who were determined to milk every free-kick they could.
But while Maddison’s red card will sting, the fact the Whites retained a point against a team apparently chasing a play-off spot will provide them with some solace, for they almost certainly would have caved completely earlier in the campaign.
For 43 minutes, the first half crawled by at a snail’s pace, barely a chance created by either side on a cold night to quicken the pulse.
Morecambe sat impossibly deep, leaving Bolton to pass metronomically in front of them with little damage caused.
Derek Adams’ Shrimps are well-drilled and exactly the sort of side Bolton have struggled to break down on home turf this season.
There was little to suggest this game was going to deviate from the script until the 43rd minute when Alex Baptiste’s pass from the back allowed Nathan Delfouneso to turn 25 yards out, run at ex-Bolton youth product Sam Lavelle, and squeeze a pass out to Doyle to bury with precision into the bottom corner.
Up to that point, any efforts Wanderers had made to stretch the game had been rendered largely useless.
The men in red held tight and attacked in organised counters via the educated Aaron Wildig and John O’Sullivan.
Bolton coped comfortably early on, although there have been few occasions this season where Ricardo Santos has been matched for physicality, something the burly Cole Stockton managed well.
On the rare occasions the visitors did flicker into life there was not enough attacking support to make their precise football count.
Wildig and Stockton sent dangerous crosses skidding into Matt Gilks’ six-yard box, to no avail.
Carlos Mendes Gomes also curled a speculative shot from the edge of the box after Bolton had gambled a couple too many men forward – but chances for the Whites were even harder to come by, with Doyle’s tame effort at keeper Kyle Letheren the only effort of note.
Wanderers have taken a lead into the second half only five times in 25 games this season, and only three times at home. Now was the time to show if they really could control a game from the front.
The two-goal cushion nearly arrived straight after the restart when a superb switch of play from George Thomason set Isgrove free on the right and Harry Brockbank burst on to his pass to have a shot blocked by defender Alex Denny.
It proved Brockbank’s last action as he limped off moments later, replaced by Gethin Jones. At the same time Evatt brought on two of his deadline-day signings, Dapo Afolayan and Maddison
Their first impact was a positive one – West Ham youngster Alofayan scooting in from the left to serve up a pass for Maddison, blasted straight at keeper Letheren.
Maddison’s second, however, ensured his debut would be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Chasing a loose pass, the winger left his feet as he challenged O’Sullivan and as the red shirts surrounded referee Langford, he stepped back to show a matching colour to the Bolton new boy, who looked to the skies as he trudged back down the tunnel.
Morecambe had already hit the bar – Lavelle’s header tipped on to the frame of the goal by Gilks – but after Maddison’s exit they laid siege in search of an equaliser.
Stockton should have scored from close range, getting his feet in a muddle after some good work from Wildig on the right. And then with seven minutes remaining, the Shrimps finally found a killer touch.
After the red card Bolton developed a worrying habit of conceding free-kicks and set pieces, allowing the visitors to steadily ramp up the pressure.
Morecambe's wide men used every trick in the book to draw challenges and earn a chance to load the penalty box. And, at times, Wanderers were a little naive with the way they fell into the trap.
Defending had been sound to that point – but the marking was non-existent as sub Lyons headed home with his first touch of the game.
Morecambe sensed a win was within their grasp and piled forward from that stage. Gomes squeezed a header wide at the near post from one of half a dozen corners Wanderers were forced to defend in the last 15 minutes
Had they lost the game, the red card would have felt catastrophic. But Wanderers found their reset button and saw the game out well.
Afolayan’s late cameo was encouraging and there was a brief chance for Doyle at the bitter end after Zack Elbouzedi picked up a loose clearance from the keeper.
Had it been 11 v 11 for 90 minutes, Wanderers would have fancied their chances of retaining – or extending – their lead. As it turned out, frustration just about out-weighed the positives taken from their night's work.
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