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THE BIG-MATCH VERDICT: Barrow 3-3 Bolton

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

Ian Evatt called his players' character into question after Saturday's late defeat to Oldham Athletic.

Last night's dramatic comeback against his former club Barrow, secured by captain Antoni Sarcevic, has gone some way to erasing those doubts.

Evatt could not have imagined a worse start on his return to Cumbria if he had tried.

One-nil down in the second minute, 2-0 down inside four. The Wanderers boss had a dream season with Barrow last term. Guiding the Cumbrian minnows back to the Football League after a 48-year absence sent his stock soaring and prompted his move to the University of Bolton Stadium.

His return was fast becoming a nightmare.

But to bounce back from that disastrous start to give themselves a fighting chance, to then have the gumption to stick at it and snatch a last-gasp equaliser. Well, their season could start here.

You would not have envisaged that scenario at the Progression Solicitors Stadium in the first half, though. Certainly the first half-hour.

Evatt had been warned by Cumbrian police that there was talk of Barrow fans congregating to give their former manager grief for leaving.

It failed to materialise. A boo from a steward when the Wanderers team were the first to emerge from the dressing room was as hostile as it got.

Instead it was the Barrow players who made things uncomfortable for the former QPR and Blackpool defender, who would have been distraught at not only conceding twice in those opening four minutes but particularly the manner in which they were shipped.

The first came from an innocuous free kick around 30 yards out. There appeared to be little danger when Chris Taylor stepped up to take it, but the former Bolton man bent it over the wall and somehow got the better of Billy Crellin, diving low to his right.

But things went from bad to worse for the keeper, and subsequently Wanderers.

Crellin got caught in two minds whether to close down a chance for Scott Quigley, and then when he didn't get control of the ball he hesitated between chasing it or returning to his line. In the meantime Barrow popped it around the box, resulting in it being nudged back to Mike Jones, who fired into an exposed net from the 18 yard line.

Two-down inside four minutes. It could not have been worse for Evatt even if baying Barrow fans had been out in their masses.

If there was ever a time for his players to show him what they were made of, then this was it.

Peter Kioso, the newest of Evatt's 20 summer signings and of whom he has high hopes, came to the fore, and gave them a lifeline in the 16th minute, stooping to head past Joel Dixon when Ali Crawford lifted a 25-yard free kick into a crowded goalmouth.

There was a carbon copy chance two minutes later, but not the same outcome, which proved all the more frustrating for Wanderers when Barrow quickly went up the other end and restored their two-goal advantage.

Jason Taylor slipped in the lively Dior Angus, who capitalised on a static defence to drill the ball with precision past a stranded Crellin one-on-one.

Barrow were buoyant and should have had a fourth when Angus again sprinted forward.

Crellin came out to narrow the angle, albeit unconvincingly, but the keeper did enough to force Angus wider than he would have preferred and he instead played the ball back to Taylor, whose dipping shot from the edge of the box was a fraction over the bar.

It was a huge let-off for Wanderers; a turning point; a moment they would not have recovered from had it gone in - but they needed the next goal to make it count.

After overcoming the shock of such a shocking start they began to string passes together and keep possession better, trying to build chances.

But Barrow, with a lead to protect, were resilient.

Arthur Gnahoua - in the line-up after Nathan Delfouneso's wife went into labour - advanced into the box but there were no white shirts up in support of him and the home side cleared.

The striker was persistent though, and it paid off when he made inroads down the left and crossed for Eoin Doyle to send a glancing header past Dixon.

The five minutes of stoppage time were a welcome sight for Wanderers, who had got some confidence from getting a goal back.

There was a penalty appeal when Kioso went down under Josh Kay's challenge, but nothing came of it.

A terrific ball from Sarcevic was met by Kioso but his firm header dropped a whisker wide.

Half-time came at the wrong time as the momentum they were building was stopped in its tracks.

A shot from Sarcevic at the start of the second half was a shot of hope. Albeit saved by Dixon, the intentions were good.

With the second half more stop-start than the first, it was hard for Wanderers to pick up their rhythm.

But credit to them, despite repeatedly coming up against a brick wall from Barrow they kept chipping away.

Crawford caused problems with his free-kick deliveries and forced a mistake from Dixon that Gnahoua was unlucky not to capitalise on as the keeper gathered at the second attempt.

Wanderers made use of their bench and soon after Liam Gordon replaced Harry Brockbank, Ronan Darcy came on for Crawford.

Much has been made of the youngster this season and he made an impact, instigating a host of late chances.

Taking over set piece duties, he had a free kick for a foul on Sarcevic turned behind for a corner from which Alex Baptiste and Sarcevic both had shots blocked in the box.

Dixon then stopped a Sarcevic header from Brandon Comley's long ball.

The pressure was mounting, and when four minutes of stoppage time were indicated it lifted Bolton and rattled Barrow.

Time looked to be running out. But Darcy delivered again, and a composed Sarcevic picked his spot.

Character? On this evidence, Wanderers have it in spades.

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