If Ian Evatt knew anything about a manic 90 minutes against MK Dons, it is that neither club’s fans will be asking for a refund after returning to live football.
A six-goal thriller at the UniBol was levelled only in stoppage time by Bolton’s veteran defender Alex Baptiste in the pouring rain.
Four league debutants had scored at 2-2 with Mo Eisa and Scott Twine scoring either side of a sublime free kick from Josh Sheehan and a fine finish from Amadou Bakayoko.
When sub Hiram Boateng struck six minutes from time it appeared that stand-in Dons boss Dean Lewington had taken to management like a duck to water.
But then as the deluge continued, another debutant – Elias Kachunga – turned a cross back for Baptiste to scuff home his first Bolton goal in seven-and-a-half years to earn a share of the spoils.
Evatt was disappointed by some of his team’s defending on the day but could find only positives to reflect on after the final whistle.
“I thought we should have won the game, no two ways about that. They are a good team and the way they move the ball and how they rotate and play from the back takes intelligence from our players, when to step in, when to jump, when to press.
“I thought we got that balance spot on. They are good players so at times, they are going to break that, but we created a lot of opportunities where we’d nicked the ball in the final third and then we just didn’t really capitalise.
“We went behind, I didn’t think we deserved to be behind and it was a bad goal to concede and then got ourselves back in it with a brilliant free kick from Josh and then after that, I thought we took over. At the start of the second half, we dominated, we got the goal and then they looked a bit flat to be honest and like they were feeling a bit sorry for themselves. Then there was a free kick and a moment of quality then equalised and it was them that had the impetus and we looked a bit sorry for ourselves. They went ahead with another really poor goal to concede and then the lads showed great character to come back. It was some game.”
More than 16,000 fans packed into the UniBol to create a fine atmosphere on the first competitive game since February 29, 2020, when Bolton drew 0-0 with Accrington Stanley - a game that was just as eventful as it sounds.
Evatt was delighted with the level of support and hopes his side will provide plenty more evenings to remember this season in League One.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “This game is nothing without its support, we know that, and it just feels like proper football again, edge of your seat, winning and losing, all the emotions that football can give you our fans have been given them today and gone through the mill.
“But one thing, as I said, they have been entertained again. And as I have said many times this is an entertainment business when you pay hard earned money to come and watch football and I think we have done that today.”
New signing Elias Kachunga came off the bench to make a difference in the last 10 minutes, creating the final equaliser with a classy far-post touch.
“Again, in that moment the composure to find a pass and to pick one out, that’s what quality players give you – and Katcha showed that,” Evatt said.
“He hasn’t had a pre-season, we are rushing him through a little bit, but today he showed he has got real quality.”
Wanderers have Championship side Barnsley in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night, where Evatt anticipates that he will be making changes.
“All of a sudden with everyone back we have got a really strong squad,” he said.
“We will have a look at Tuesday and Saturday. At this stage of the season with the disruption we have had in the summer we are going to have to rotate but I trust everyone and whoever we put out will be competitive.”