Quite how Burton Albion escaped with a point from the UniBol, heaven only knows.
Referee Joshua Smith may also have an inkling, given his input on a night where his decision to rule out Kieran Lee’s first half strike was one of several that angered the home crowd.
Wanderers had been simply superb up until the last touch, which as we all know, is the most important one.
And though the overriding emotion on the night was one of frustration, it must be noted that most Bolton fans stayed behind to applaud their team off the pitch for doing just about everything except scoring a goal.
Wanderers have reserved some of their better performances in recent years for the TV cameras.
Even in the financial peril of the Phil Parkinson Championship era the Whites managed to dig out results when Keith Andrews and Co took up residence.
There are no fireworks and cheerleaders these days on Monday Night Football but from the first few moments it was clear to see a few of Bolton’s attacking players were keen to turn on the style.
Antoni Sarcevic was bringing balls out of the air with his backheel, Ricardo Santos bouncing Kane Hemmings and Lucas Akins into touch, and Dapo Afolayan running rings around a Burton defence whose default action seemed to be to bring the tricky winger to ground.
From 30 seconds in, Burton looked like potentially tricky customers. A long throw most of us hoped we had left behind in League Two was always going to problematic for the Wanderers backline.
That aside, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s men did little else to worry the Whites, who should have gone in at the break at least one goal to the good.
The major talking point was a disallowed goal for Lee, who fired home on 30 minutes only for referee Smith to rule it out for offside after a conflab with his linesman.
Eoin Doyle had two chances to score beforehand, having been played through by a wonderful pass from Afolayan. The Irishman made sure he got out of the way of Lee’s effort when it fizzed into the net – and in the officials’ view he had obscured keeper Ben Garratt’s chances of making the save.
Few who watched replays at half-time were able to agree. Doyle was clearly out of the keeper’s line of sight and could not possibly have been deemed offside, particularly from a linesman standing with his own obscured view.
To that point, Bolton had been terrific. Each time Afolayan got the ball the crowd noise raised an octave.
The former West Ham man had started the day as League One’s second most fouled player, behind MK Dons’ Scott Twine. It took just 18 minutes before he re-established his lead as the Brewers defenders hacked away at thin air as he left them in his trail.
The tricks really came out in one sequence as Sarcevic’s delicious control on halfway led to Lloyd Isgrove nudging the ball over two challenges and Afolayan racing into the box, driving a shot wide.
Indeed, the only way Burton looked likely to score is if Wanderers got too confident on the ball. The odd misplaced pass at the back occasionally gave them a glimpse at Joel Dixon’s goal but moments like that were few and far between.
Although Lee did not get to break his scoring duck, the classy midfielder’s reintroduction to the side in place of the absent Josh Sheehan was also a success. Knitting things together in the way we became accustomed in League Two last season, the selection for this weekend at Ipswich will not be an easy one.
Once again Wanderers worked the ball well to the wider areas of the penalty box, especially on the right with Isgrove and full-back Gethin Jones. Had that final ball been more consistent in the first hour, who knows what scoreline they could have racked up? It would most certainly have been a more comfortable evening.
Sarcevic certainly put a cross on the money on 62 minutes, Burton scrambling a clearance as far as Afolayan who stroked a shot around the defender and watched it bounce off the base of the post to safety.
Wanderers were purring, more so than they had in the second half at Cambridge. The longer the game stayed goalless, however, the greater chance that one of Burton’s numerous pondering long throws was going to hit its target.
The urgency was showing. Doyle hassled a corner by chasing down keeper Garratt, who moments later had to palm a powerful effort from Jones around the post.
The fragile balance of the game was shown with a loose pass from Santos 17 minutes before the end which dropped invitingly for Jonny Smith, whose shot was mercifully curled wide of the upright.
Elias Kachunga replaced Doyle for extra energy in attack and Wanderers continued to hammer on the door – Sarcevic twice going close and Liam Gordon seeing another goal-bound effort deflect wide in the closing stages.
The bookings had stacked up for Burton to the point that the next man who fouled Afolayan was almost certainly getting the first shower. Brayford was the guilty culprit in the end, sending the Bolton winger flying with a tackle straight out of another decade.
Roared on to attack by the fans, Wanderers kept on pushing. Kachunga got a touch on Jones’s fine cross from the right – but alas not enough to send the ball into the net.
Not a soul had left the UniBol as five minutes of injury time began but no matter how well they worked the ball outside the box, the killer touch just wasn’t there.
There was a late penalty shout and Evatt even picked up a yellow card for protesting against some textbook time-wasting on half-way, after which Isgrove came within inches of diverting Kachunga’s header into the net with virtually the final touch.
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