In the dying moments Birmingham's Graham Hyde handled the ball on the line. He was dismissed and Holdsworth scored from the spot to secure a deserved share of the spoils for Wanderers and put the 1-0 defeat by Manchester City last Saturday behind them.
The Birmingham manager, Trevor Francis, showed his frustration by refusing to comment after his side had thrown away a 3-1 half-time lead. But his Bolton counterpart Colin Todd was cheered by Wanderers' late show. "We have so much talent in the dressing room, which is one thing, but the honesty and how genuine they are as players is unbelievable," Todd said. "You have to have desire as well as talent.
"In the first 25 minutes we were as good as anybody. We showed resolve, resilience, defended well and got our noses in front. But from a winning position, we made mistakes, which is something I cannot legislate for."
Bolton started brightly, opening their account after 14 minutes thanks to a textbook counter-attack. Ricardo Gardner picked up the clearance and sprinted down the right before finding Michael Johansen on the opposite flank. A short but well placed cross was all Per Frandsen needed to volley home his third goal of the season.
But the celebrations were short lived as City levelled via David Holdsworth, Dean's twin brother. As the ball bobbled around the area the centre-half scrambled home an equaliser.
Bolton's poor defending deteriorated further still towards the break. Stan Lazaridis played Paul Furlong into space, and the striker beat goalkeeper Keith Branagan from close range in the 37th minute. On the stroke of half- time, Lazaridis again found Furlong, who secured his brace to put the visitors firmly in charge at the break.
"At half-time I said to the players we don't have to change the way we are playing," Todd said. "We needed to start the second half in the same vein."
Indeed, Wanderers refused to lie down and took the game to City in the second period. Frandsen pulled one back for the hosts with a thunderous free-kick from the edge of the area. Spurred on by his efforts, Bolton found a second wind as the game reached a tense climax.
Frandsen buried a shot just after the hour mark only to see it disallowed under a dubious offside ruling. The linesman's flag was very late but despite Wanderers' fierce and extensive protest the goal was ruled out.
City were under the cosh for much of the second half and looked like maintaining their narrow advantage until Hyde's injury-time howler gave the hosts an equaliser.
"There were players out there who didn't deserve to be on a drawing side," Todd said. "Per Frandsen was absolutely outstanding. We are disappointed that we haven't come away winning the game. We had to work extra hard to score but I can understand why Trevor refused to speak to the media."
Goals: Frandsen (14) 1-0; David Holdsworth (26) 1-1; Furlong (37) 1-2; Furlong (45) 1-3; Frandsen (53) 2-3; Dean Holdsworth (90, pen) 3-3.
Bolton Wanderers: Branagan; Cox, Strong (Bergsson, 53), Todd (Phillips, 75), Whitlow, Johansen, Frandsen, Elliott, Gardner, Taylor (Hansen, 65), Dean Holdsworth. Substitutes not used: Banks, Aljofree.
Birmingham: Poole; Rowett, David Holdsworth, M Johnson, Grainger, Hyde, O'Connor, Lazaridis (Purse, 88), Hughes (Holland, 35), Furlong, A Johnson (Ndlovu, 82). Substitutes not used: Adebola, Knight.
Referee: A Bates (Stoke-on-Trent).
Bookings: Bolton: Johansen. Birmingham: Holdsworth, A Johnson.
Sending-off: Birmingham: Hyde.
Attendance: 11,668.Reuse content