But Jermaine Beckford missed his spot-kick, leaving Karanka to celebrate a 1-0 victory in his first home game in charge thanks to Grant Leadbitter slotting home a penalty of his own after 82 minutes.
Former Real Madrid assistant boss Karanka was cheered onto the pitch with a Basque-style mass display of red hankerchief waving.
"It was very emotional for me, " he said.
"From the moment I signed the contract I had dreamed of the first home game and the greeting I got from our people made it very special.
"But it nearly turned into a nightmare when Bolton won the penalty so late on in the game.
"I feared it would be like at Leeds last week when we had worked so hard to get into a good position in the game and then conceded from a late mistake.
"But they missed and so I can go home happy and the supporters can go home happy. It was a good day.
"It was a tough game but I thought we did very well for long spells, although it is still very early days for me and for the players. We still need to improve."