IT doesn’t matter how much money it will take for Ellis Short to leave Sunderland, nor does it matter how many names are on a petition demanding the American’s departure, at least for the time being anyway.

What matters between now and when the final whistle is blown on May 6 are the events on the football pitch and, after the latest miserable night in the Black Cats’ recent depressing history, the biggest short-term challenge facing Chris Coleman and his players is survival.

On a day when a Sunderland fan group penned an open letter demanding change, and it emerged Short is looking for a knock down price of £50m to go, a match labelled the “biggest of the season” by the manager beforehand ended in yet another defeat … this time to Bolton.

It was by no means a disgraceful performance at the Macron Stadium, nevertheless it was another of those when Sunderland failed to come up with the goods required to give their fight for survival a lift.

Even if Sunderland huffed and puffed after Zach Clough’s 17th minute opener had squirmed beyond goalkeeper Lee Camp, the reality is they lacked the attacking quality to find a way through a dogged Bolton defence – and when they did former Sunderland goalkeeper Ben Alnwick was hand to frustrate.

Clough’s winner means Bolton are now seven points clear of Sunderland, whose fourth defeat from their last five winless matches leaves them rock bottom of the Championship and three points adrift of safety ahead of Middlesbrough’s visit to Wearside on Saturday.

Sunderland’s players have been performing disappointingly anyway, so the distraction of an independent fans group launching a petition against Short’s ownership should never really have impacted onto the team’s display here. And it didn’t.

What Coleman turned to in this alarming situation, though, was more experience in how to handle negativity and frustration. To try to address that he brought back Lamine Kone, Bryan Oviedo and Paddy McNair.

Those faces meant a switch to the five at the back system which he has preferred and it brought a slightly better performance than of late.

The last time these two sides met it proved the end of Simon Grayson’s short reign; back on Halloween when a 3-3 draw at the Stadium of Light saw him sacked within minutes of the full-time whistle and before he had even faced the media.

Since then, despite four wins (one more than Grayson), the blanket of negativity has been difficult to shift and, with Bolton starting the night four points ahead of Sunderland, a failure to leave with an away win did nothing to ease the perilous situation.

At first it looked like nerves had got the better of both teams. Neither side had looked like posing much of a problem, with much of the scrappy play played in the middle third of the field.

And after Ashley Fletcher’s low ball across the face of the goal in the 12th minute had just too much on it for strike partner Joel Asoro to turn goalwards, the first half was about having to chase down Bolton’s lead.

That was because of Camp’s lack of awareness that majorly contributed to the opener. Even if there were claims for handball, which were waved away, when Clough helped Filipe Morais’ free-kick in, the Sunderland goalkeeper should still have stopped it.

Instead, kneeling on his line at the near post, he only acted to help the ball into his net and Bolton were ahead. All of the wins under Coleman have arrived when they have taken the lead, so it was always going to be tough from there on in for the visitors.

Having said that Sunderland still should have been level on the half hour. When McNair, playing in a three man midfield, launched a ball in behind the Bolton defence for Fletcher to race on to, the chance was there.

Had it been a forward in-form, rather than one with just a goal in the league this season, then it might have been. However, Fletcher didn’t looked confident and his right-foot shot was comfortably stopped by former Sunderland goalkeeper Ben Alnwick.

While Bolton have struggled since returning from League One, and without a win in three, their home form has been much improved and they had not lost at the Macron Stadium since mid-December.

But Sunderland could have been level at the break. There was a goalmouth scramble which ended with Middlesbrough old-boy David Wheater stopping an effort from McNair that seemed destined for the net.

Then, with the whistle approaching, Fletcher volleyed into the side-netting after a tidy flick-on from Asoro, who screamed for the return pass that never arrived. It was a move that was given offside anyway, but the Middlesbrough loanee must have known that.

Aside from the goal and a header from Sammy Ameobi that dropped into Camp’s hands, there was nothing more for Sunderland to worry in that half so all did not seem lost going into the break.

And Sunderland continued to press and probe after the restart. The big problem they had was testing Alnwick further. Cattermole orchestrated things in the middle, regularly trying to play a pass into the feet of the strikers.

Despite plenty of movement from Asoro and Fletcher the pair still found it hard to get in behind the Bolton defence, with Dorian Dervite, Wheater and Mark Beevers doing enough as the central three, with Hartlepool-born Andrew Taylor and Filipe Morais helping out on the flanks.

On the one occasion it looked as if Asoro had worked his way in behind, Wheater hauled him down right on the edge of the area and was cautioned; an inch or two further and it would have been a penalty.

Instead Aiden McGeady, brought on for the decent enough Jones, hit the wall with his poorly struck dead ball and that was another wasted opportunity, and the Irish winger knew it when he stamped his feet in frustration.

After that Bolton sensed it was to be there night. They saw a bit more of the ball and should have extended their advantage when substitute Adam Le Fondre’s well-saved header from Camp was followed by a Jem Karacan effort that crashed against the bar.

There was time for Fletcher to waste a header laid on for him from Callum McManaman, who did his best to spark things to life down the right, and the substitute also forced Alnwick into a fantastic save deep into stoppage-time.

It was too little, too late. Bolton hung on.