Given the nerves of deadline day and the fact no new signings had been secured by the start of the game, Ian Evatt will be grateful for the small mercy of a winning start to the Papa John’s Trophy.
By no means a simple exercise, the Whites had to claw their way back from 2-1 down against a plucky Port Vale side to put three points on the board in the group with a 3-2 victory.
Eoin Doyle opened the scoring but Bolton’s poor defending to allow Tom Conlan and David Amoo to put the League Two side ahead looked a cause for concern at the time.
Wanderers were able to steady themselves after half-time, however, and once Nathan Delfouneso headed an equaliser – and a measure of personal redemption – Dapo Afolayan stepped off the bench to score his third of the campaign.
Evatt made eight changes to the side which was beaten at Cambridge United, bringing Andy Tutte in for his first appearance of the season and also handing a first home start to Elias Kachunga.
Loanee Dennis Politic could not feature for Vale against his parent club but on the basis of their performance at the UniBol, he is playing in a side that encourage smart football.
Plenty of questions had been asked of Bolton’s performance at the Abbey Stadium and one man who looked keen to prove a point was Lloyd Isgrove, a veritable bundle of energy down the right flank for the whole of the first half.
The quality of Wanderers’ crossing has certainly been scrutinised of late but here, Isgrove was offered the space and incentive to show a different side to his game.
Often noted more for his work-rate and qualities out of possession, the Wales winger looked right on song scampering in behind wing-back Mal Benning to produce a cluster of chances for the Whites.
Skipper for the night Doyle might have opened the scoring seven minutes in after being played in by Delfouneso. The Irishman got a clear sight of Aidan Stone’s goal but squeezed his angled shot well wide.
Kachunga got the next big chance, put through by a beautiful, lofted cross by Isgrove, the former Sheffield Wednesday man got the right side of his defender but couldn’t quite keep his balance to get a proper shot away.
He then went it alone after picking up on a loose pass from Tom Pett, having a shot charged down on the edge of the box by Nathan Smith.
Alex Baptiste should definitely have put his side ahead when Tutte stood a perfect cross up to the far post, the veteran defender skidding a header wide.
Then, no sooner had he changed his boots, Isgrove slid a perfect ball from the right, passed into the net by Doyle for his third of the season.
Vale had played their part to that point, looking a threat when they played the ball in neat patterns around the edge of the box.
Once ahead, Wanderers took it as a sign to stop challenging for the ball. Fairly soon they paid dearly for it.
The visitors progressed unchecked to the edge of the box where James Gibbons played a fine ball out for Lewis Cass, whose low cross was controlled by Conlon, then despatched past Gilks without a defender in close quarters.
Eight minutes later the League Two side had the lead. Once again a yawning gap opened up in the Bolton defence, Baptiste caught out of position and Amoo played down the side of Ricardo Santos. The striker’s shot was speculative at best but somehow bounced under Gilks’s body, leaving the Bolton keeper cursing another costly error.
In fairness, Gilks kept his side in the game moments later with a smart stop from Devante Rodney. Evatt’s team-talk had long since changed to a more negative tone, however, and there were a smattering of discontented grumbles from the small crowd in the East Stand as the players ran back down the tunnel.
The mood inside and outside the dressing room may well have deteriorated further had Rodney punished an error from Delfouneso just after the restart, rather than scuffing an awful effort wide.
With the embarrassment of that 6-3 defeat in the back of their mind, Bolton set about getting themselves back into the game.
And wouldn’t you know that Isgrove – tormentor in chief – would have a big say in the equaliser.
His cross to the near post gave Delfouneso the kind of chance he has been dreaming about since missing the penalty against Wigan.
Evatt sent on Antoni Sarcevic and Afolayan for Doyle and the excellent Isgrove, hoping some fresh impetus could spare his side the need for a shootout in the name of a bonus point. After all, precious minutes on deadline day were at stake here.
And not for the first time this season Afolayan did the business. Wanderers worked the ball well down the left through Liam Gordon before the former West Ham man shifted inside and drove a low shot past Stone off the base of the post.
From there, Wanderers only had one more scare. Gilks lost a deep cross from the right and Benning slammed a shot into Santos from an acute angle. Vale’s fans claimed a handball and given some of the peculiar decisions given by Scott Oldham on the night, there was some concern.
But the danger passed and Bolton got back to winning ways. No matter what the competition, or the opposition, that is always a nice thing to write.
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