It looked like visiting goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey would leave Bolton frustrated again on Wednesday night with a series of a fine saves but a disastrous back pass from Ronald Zubar presented on-loan Chelsea striker Sturridge with a chance he could not miss.
Moments earlier in the Premier League clash at the Reebok Stadium, Kevin Doyle had seen his shot deflected onto a post while Matt Jarvis also missed a glorious chance for Wolves, who dropped below West Ham to the foot of the table after their win at Blackpool.
Bolton boss Owen Coyle threw Lee Chung-yong straight back into the action on his return from the Asian Cup but Sturridge had to settle for a place on the bench, as did Wolves new boy Jamie O’Hara.
After a predictably scrappy start, the first chance came in the seventh minute when Stuart Holden swung in an inviting cross for Johan Elmander but the Swede did not get nearly enough on his header and Lee blazed over the bar at the far post.
The hosts, though, should definitely have been behind shortly afterwards when they got their offside trap all wrong, leaving Jarvis in acres of space.
The winger has been talked about as a potential England player this season but he will want to forget the weak shot he rolled past the post when it looked far easier to score.
Next it was Bolton’s turn to threaten, and this time Elmander did much better, reacting quickly to poke a low shot towards the far corner that Wayne Hennessey pushed round the post.
The Wales keeper was at it again in the 21st minute, saving a Matt Taylor effort with his feet after Lee had done brilliantly to win a tackle in midfield then curl a lovely pass into the path of his team-mate.
The hosts had posed the greater threat but a decent spell of Wolves possession ended with Adam Hammill having a shot blocked – the former Barnsley man then appealing strongly for a penalty as he was prevented from reaching the rebound.
After a lively spell, the first half became something of a stalemate, although Sam Ricketts was unlucky to see his sweetly-struck 25-yarder fly just past the post with Hennessey stranded.
Wolves began the second half the brighter and Hammill embarked on a mazy run that ended with the midfielder seeing his shot blocked by Zat Knight.
Bolton responded and, after Kevin Davies had stabbed a corner towards the net, Lee’s flick from almost on the goalline was well kept out by Hennessey.
The game had been generally good-natured but there was an ugly spat in the 56th minute as Richard Stearman caught Paul Robinson late and the Bolton full-back reacted by pushing his opponent to the floor.
Referee Peter Walton showed yellow cards to both, for which Robinson in particular could consider himself somewhat fortunate.
Hennessey was then called upon to make another fine save, this time from his own player as Christophe Berra got his bearings wrong and volleyed Lee’s cross powerfully towards his net.
With 23 minutes remaining, Coyle gave Sturridge his debut, but it was Elmander who should have scored moments later only for the striker to connect poorly with Mark Davies’ fine pull-back.
O’Hara became the game’s second debutant 15 minutes from the end, the Tottenham man hoping to have a similar impact for Wolves as he did on a loan move to Portsmouth last season.
Wolves’ problems were highlighted with three minutes left as Doyle picked up the ball on the right and looked up to find not a single team-mate even in the Bolton half.
The striker did not let that stop him, though, and he exploited hesitant defending from Knight to drive into the area from where he hit a shot that crashed off the post via a deflection with Jaaskelainen beaten.
But, with only seconds remaining, the visitors shot themselves in the foot, leaving Zubar hanging his head and the Bolton fans saluting a new hero.