Eoin Doyle and Antoni Sarcevic scored the goals to derail in-form Scunthorpe United and give Ian Evatt’s Bolton a result that will have made League Two sit up and take notice.
A fourth win on the spin puts the Whites one away from the play-off zone and with a newfound confidence in the camp, this topsy-turvy campaign finally appears to be heading in the right direction.
Evatt made a bold call to drop Marcus Maddison to the bench in favour of Lloyd Isgrove and also rested Kieran Lee after his exertions at Southend, bringing George Thomason back into the starting 11 for the first time in a couple of games.
The opening 25 minutes were bright and breezy, with Bolton playing some nice football in patches without making ex-Wanderer Mark Howard really earn his money.
Declan John was a consistent out-ball on the left. His tireless running has become a feature of the Whites’ recent good run and both he and opposite number Gethin Jones had plenty of chance to push forward against a Scunthorpe team determined to sit in and defend.
If anything, Bolton had it too much their own way. Claiming 72 per cent of possession in the first 45 minutes they were often chastised from the touchline for being too impatient or rushing the final ball. But nobody could have possibly argued that their dominance warranted a half-time lead.
Eoin Doyle had endured a frustrating day on the coast at Southend and for the first 30 minutes the Irishman must have wondered if that 12th goal would ever arrive.
Isgrove, John and Jones all put in crosses which whipped tantalisingly close to Doyle’s outstretched boot, and George Taft denied his former team-mate with a brave block with his head close to goal.
Bolton kept knocking at the door and showed some overdue invention from set pieces, targeting a yawning chasm of space at the near post, Nathan Delfouneso had already gone close on a couple of occasions to turning the ball goalward.
He got himself into the mix once again in the 37th minute, this time copping a high boot as ex-Bury defender Jacob Bedeau tried to clear his lines. Referee Anthony Backhouse pointed immediately to the spot.
Howard has developed a reputation for saving penalties down the years and did so on a couple of occasions for Wanderers as he split goalkeeper duties with Ben Alnwick in the League One promotion season under Phil Parkinson.
Perhaps it was Doyle’s frustration at the missed opportunities of the last couple of games but the ferocity with which he struck the ball from the spot almost shifted the goal back six inches towards the stands. Howard barely bothered to move.
No Bolton striker has managed to score more than 12 in a single season since Michael Ricketts scored 15 in the first year back in the Premier League in 2001/02.
Doyle moved level with luminaries like Kevin Nolan, Stelios, Nicolas Anelka, Kevin Davies, Johan Elmander and Chris Eagles – but the baker’s dozen is surely a formality when Wanderers are creating so many opportunities.
Iron boss Neil Cox had clearly been unhappy with what he saw in the first 45 minutes, making three substitutions at the break. And the result was a much-improved spell after the restart in which the visitors were inches away from levelling the scores.
Taft nearly got one over on his old employers, scooping a shot at goal from close range after Wanderers had failed to properly clear a corner. Matt Gilks was equal to his effort and moments later the Whites keeper had to scurry off his line to clear from Abo Eisa’s feet – leaving an empty net for sub Kevin van Veen to aim at. Luckily for Wanderers, Alex Baptiste had spotted the danger, sliding to scoop the ball away from danger before it crossed the line.
For a short spell, Wanderers looked to have lost their composure and shape. Scunthorpe huffed and puffed for a while, target man Ryan Loft putting a couple of speculative headers in on goal, but Gilks was not seriously stretched.
Evatt called on club skipper Sarcevic to add some experience and within five minutes he had settled all nerves like a Mancunian nightcap.
Isgrove had drifted out of the game somewhat in the second half but took up an excellent position on the right to drill a low cross into the box, dummied by Doyle, and finished with aplomb by the new man on the pitch.
That should have been game over. But a late error from the previously impeccable MJ Williams allowed sub Van Veen to test Gilks with a late chip – at which point the remaining 10 minutes threatened to become more nervous than they needed to be.
But after Marcus Maddison was added to the mix with a minute to go, Bolton settled once again. Shaun Miller had a goal-bound shot blocked, denying him a second in as many games, but in the end it was Wanderers, and not the Iron, who showed their mettle.
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