Antoni Sarcevic secured Wanderers’ first League One victory of the season, ending a 110-year jinx at Sincil Bank in the process.
Not since 1910 had a Bolton team won a league game in Lincoln – but they produced an exemplary second-half performance against one of the division’s fancied sides to underline their own credentials on a tense and thoroughly entertaining night.
Sarcevic got the crucial goal 13 minutes from time – the skipper so often revelling in such late goalscoring heroics since joining the club last season.
But this was a night for unsung heroes. Sub Lloyd Isgrove was outstanding after replacing Amadou Bakayoko in the first half and full-back Gethin Jones answered any critics with an all-action performance at full-back.
Wanderers made two changes to the side that drew at Wimbledon, with George Johnston replacing the rested Alex Baptiste and Liam Gordon coming in for the injured Declan John at left-back.
Gordon’s last league appearance was in November 2020 against Mansfield Town in League Two. This was a big step up in class but after an encouraging display against Championship Barnsley in the Carabao Cup the 22-year-old’s stock has never been higher in a Bolton shirt.
Evatt had admitted in the build-up that many of the players he had scouted in the last 12 months had also been on Lincoln City’s radar and that there was a similarity between the tactical make-up of the two teams.
For the opening 20 minutes it could easily have been a training ground exercise, with both sides playing near-identical football, pleasing on the eye, but lacking much end product.
Lincoln began to show a little more incision around the penalty box and Hakeb Adelakun forced Joel Dixon to parry a shot around his post.
Wanderers were largely left alone to enjoy possession in their own half but space was harder to come by once they crossed half way.
Ex-Bolton skipper Liam Bridcutt oozed class in the middle of the park and it became clear that the Whites would have to be right on their game to travel back to the North West with anything to show from their night.
Jones, MJ Williams and even Dapo Afolayan were back in their own penalty box to get crucial blocks and interceptions to halt the home side’s more penetrating football.
Going forward, Josh Sheehan tried hard to get things going for Bolton but was unable to dictate in the same way Bridcutt was doing for the Imps.
Oddly, it was a set piece that offered up the best chance of the opening half hour – Bakayoko getting up unchallenged to head down Sheehan’s corner, the ball then bouncing harmlessly past Ricardo Santos at the far post.
Wanderers were not exactly clinging on but they were certainly having to defend with every ounce of concentration they could muster.
Tom Hopper lashed a shot over the bar and Adelakun tested Dixon again after a big shout of handball had gone up from the home fans when Gordon charged down his first effort.
Chance of the half came on 40 minutes, however, as Max Melbourne’s cross was half-cleared to the edge of the area and Lasse Sorensen’s side-footed effort shaved the post.
Wanderers nearly snatched a lead just before the break when Santos picked out a perfect pass for Sarcevic over the top but the captain could not quite bring it under his control to get a shot away.
That meant Bolton failed to score before the half-time break for the first time in their last six league games, going back to their last Lincolnshire trip at Grimsby Town.
Thankfully, here at the LNER Stadium, the defending was much sharper than it had been that day in an empty Blundell Park. A good job too, as Michael Appleton’s side looked capable of grabbing the proverbial mile if they were offered an inch.
More than 800 fans made the 250-mile round trip, and Wanderers kicked towards the Stacey West Stand in the second half. And Evatt’s side obliged by giving them plenty more to view.
Gordon started things off by ghosting into the box and nearly capitalising on some good work by sub Isgrove. The frantic defending to usher the ball away at the far post signalled a change in the game’s balance.
Isgrove looked like he had a point to prove – and moments later he was galloping down the left to collect Williams’ fine cross-field ball. His deep cross was headed towards goal by Afolayan and then scrambled off the line by Adam Jackson, Melbourne then managing to poke the ball away from Doyle as he chased up the rebound.
Lincoln still had their moments but they became less frequent. Anthony Scully cut in from the left and curled a good effort over the bar and Adelakun continued his one-man tussle with Dixon, seeing an angled drive pushed away by the Bolton stopper.
But as the tiny scoreboard above the away fans ticked down to the last 20 minutes, Evatt had a choice to make – would he try and protect the point, or would he try to go for all three. Anyone who has watched this Bolton team for the last 12 months knew the answer.
Elias Kachunga came on for Eoin Doyle – and it wasn’t long before he was right in the thick of the game’s winning goal.
Joshua Griffiths had to race off his line to clear in front of the German-born striker but when he failed to find touch, Lincoln were suddenly scrambling. Kachunga drove at the penalty box, rather than attempting to lob, and after Dapo Afolayan’s effort was blocked, Sarcevic followed up to slot home from eight yards, sending the away fans into delirium behind the goal.
It was only as the game lurched into a tense final 10 minutes that Evatt sought any form of security, replacing the goalscorer with experience in Kieran Lee.
In the end, Wanderers saw the game out professionally, hardly having to break sweat in four minutes of added time as the rest of us looked on nervously.
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