Bolton’s late season improvement continued as they heaped pressure on relegation threatened Barnsley with a 1-0 win.
Jermaine Beckford struck in the first half for Wanderers but Barsnley had the chance to level with a penalty with just under 10 minutes left.
But Chris O’Grady’s spot-kick smashed the frame of the goal to deny them a valuable draw.
Bolton’s on-loan signing Joe Mason was named among the substitutes in what was the last game of his loan spell before returning to parent club Cardiff.
Liam Lawrence returned for the visitors after missing their defeat by Burnley with a slight calf strain and Kelvin Etuhu came back from suspension.
Barnsley looked threatening early on and should have taken the lead. Terrific interplay saw McLaughlin feed the ball into Dale Jennings, who somehow blazed it over the bar.
Beckford then had a chance to open the scoring. Chung-Yong Lee cut the ball back inside from a cross, but the Jamaican international could not guide the pass to the target in a half that failed to capture the imagination.
But, just as the game was approached the break, Wanderers scored a surprising goal. A long ball out of defence from Matt Mills caught the Barnsley defence napping, with Beckford controlling well and then rounding the ball past Luke Steele into an empty net.
They then had the opportunity to double the lead early in the second half. Alan Hutton set-up Andre Moritz from close range, but Steele stood tall and chested the ball out for a corner
The Tykes had a chance to equalise when O’Grady volleyed from the edge of the area, though the ball went straight into the hands of Adam Bogdan.
A Rob Hall long ball puts Beckford into a similar situation from which he scored. However, this time he could not guide the ball home.
Barnsley were now pushing for the draw with chances from Kennedy and Thomasz Cywka and they could have had a penalty when O’Grady looked to be pushed in the back by Matt Mills.
McLaughlin had a great opportunity but his free header from three yards out was not on target. Jennings then hit a shot from 25 yards which smashes against the post, though the referee awarded a corner.
Their biggest chance came when McLaughlin won a penalty after being brought down in the box from a clumsy challenge from Alex Baptiste, who was then substituted shortly after.
But O’Grady’s penalty hit the post and went out for a throw, with Bolton then holding on for the win
Bolton manager Dougie Freedman praised the referee’s performance but was unhappy that his players could not finish the game off before they conceded the penalty.
Freedman said: “Was I disappointed in conceding the penalty? I was very disappointed with it.
“You could sense it coming because they were throwing everything at us and we were going up the other end and if we don’t finish with a goal you’re going to vulnerable on the counter attack.
“I was disappointed in giving away a penalty and they will be more disappointed with missing it but I was more concerned that we didn’t finish it off at the other end.
“I thought the referee had a very good game and I thought he got every decision correct, including the penalty. He was probably the man of the match.
“It was a very hard-fought victory but you can’t expect anything more when you are fighting a team that are battling relegation.
“We knew it was going to be a game like that and it was an end to end game, but if you look at it we had enough opportunities to be in a comfortable position.
“If you don’t take them, you’re always going to give a team hope.”