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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » BIG MATCH VERDICT: Forget the Hollywood ending and finish reading the script!

BIG MATCH VERDICT: Forget the Hollywood ending and finish reading the script!

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

Put the Champagne on ice, better still take it back to the shop.

Tucked away somewhere in the UniBol offices is an EFL-issued promotion banner, which would have been paraded for the cameras had Wanderers preserved a one-goal lead against Exeter City instead of melting under the spotlight in the second half.

It summed up a rather presumptive vibe, one which went against the hard work and sacrifice which had got Ian Evatt’s team to this stage from a seemingly impossible position.

It definitely existed outside the stadium, where fans had gathered in party mood before there was really a reason to enjoy one.

And whether, after Gethin Jones had cemented Bolton’s superiority in the early stages, the fireworks, the chants, the TV attention, just made Bolton forget they were not over the finishing line yet.

Evatt and Co may do well to leave the banner at home next weekend when they climb aboard the bus to Crawley, for that will be the sort of inhospitable destination that is waiting to gobble arrogance whole.

And make no mistake about it, the rest of League Two – not just fourth-placed Morecambe – is waiting to revel in Bolton’s failure if they fall.

After watching his team wilt, finally succumbing to Peter Sweeney’s 95th minute header, the disappointment was clear in Evatt’s face. To have secured a top three spot on Saturday, then go to West Sussex next weekend looking to cap it all with the League Two trophy, would have been a scriptwriter’s dream.

The media had certainly picked up on it. All the pre-match narrative had been geared towards this moment being Ground Zero in a arc which could lead all the way back to the Premier League glory days.

But just as Grimsby had slapped such idyllic daydreaming out of Bolton minds with a wet haddock a few games back, this wake-up-call from Exeter had better be heeded, and quickly.

Wanderers passed with confidence in the first half and looked to have set their tempo spot on, fully deserving the opening goal, created by Antoni Sarcevic and Eoin Doyle, then finished with aplomb by Jones.

Exeter’s need for three points was indeed working in their favour, the Whites shifting the ball quickly to open up pockets of space for the fit-again Declan John to raid into.

As so often has been the case this season, those moments of superiority were not translated into goals, plural. And though Grecians defender Alex Hartidge may be considered a lucky boy for not getting a straight red card from referee Anthony Backhouse as he dragged down Lloyd Isgrove on the edge of the box, it was in Bolton’s hands to make that game safe.

Exeter deserve huge credit for the way they stuck to the task. Peter Sweeney defended his own penalty box like a warrior and were this an account from a Devon writer, you could expect paragraphs on how important his example had been well before he grabbed the injury time header.

They got back on level terms with the type of well-crafted goal we have seen so many times from Evatt’s men in the second half of this season. Playing from back to front, moving opponents to expose gaps in each third, applying a burst of pace when necessary.

Randell Williams drove low into the bottom corner to finish the move but having been undone in such a manner, we needed to see Bolton’s riposte. And it never materialised.

There were moments of huff and bluster. We have become conditioned to seeing Wanderers get the hard work done late in the game, so even after such a disappointing second half the corks were still waiting to pop around the town, expecting a late hero to emerge.

But for the first time in a long while there was something missing. The drive just was not there.

Evatt looked to his bench for inspiration but while weeks ago those late changes brought a fresh wave of energy and ideas, recent games have seen nothing added whatsoever. And that is a cause for concern.

There is a post-mortem debate to be had about whether Bolton could have thrown more men forward sooner, if Shaun Miller and Eoin Doyle should be playing more as a pair than as alternatives to each other. But the root cause of the second-half let-down was altogether more worrying, it was that nobody in a white shirt wanted to take the game by the scruff of the neck and ensure their name dominated the headlines the next day.

Wanderers attacked almost apologetically as Exeter left swathes of space, searching for their own golden goal.

By injury time we had a scene reminiscent of the final day in 2013, where Nottingham Forest’s one-eyed need for a goal allowed Leicester City’s Anthony Knockaert to counter and score in an open net. It was a strike that ultimately cost Bolton a place in the play-offs, not that we need any reminder.

Exeter poured forward and after Nathan Delfouneso conceded a cheap free kick right on the edge of the box, Exeter keeper Jokull Andresson raced into the box and there was an inevitability about what was to follow.

In a parallel universe, perhaps Jones beat Sweeney in the air, setting Doyle and Miller away on a swift break which ended with them rolling the ball into an unguarded goal?

In this rather less enjoyable reality, the big defender powered home a header to leave Wanderers with no time to respond.

Outside, the celebratory mood had taken a darker turn. A small number of people decided that breaking through an exit door and into the stadium was in some way necessary.

They were the faces bouncing around social media on Saturday evening, at which point the football-wide blackout fell with superb timing for this writer in particular.

Rather, I would prefer to appreciate those who remained socially distant or stayed into the evening to help clear the litter and the debris outside.

For Wanderers, a reality check. Forget the Hollywood ending at the UniBol, now they must do it on a decidedly smaller budget at the People’s Pension Stadium. And if that thought does not sober you up, nothing will.

Perhaps everyone got carried away with the fantasy?

The hardest week of Ian Evatt’s season starts here.

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