Wanderers made short work of Liverpool’s kids to put one foot into the next round of the Papa John’s Trophy.
Port Vale’s late winner against Rochdale means they will have to avoid defeat at Spotland next month to guarantee their progression, and a step closer to Wembley – a prize that certainly looked a long way a way on a wintry wet night like this.
Ian Evatt had questioned in the build up to the game what was to be gained by Premier League clubs putting their Under-21 teams out in this competition. And at times, it really was men against the boys.
Amadou Bakayoko came on at half time to help himself to two goals, one from the spot, after Nathan Delfouneso had given his side a lead in the first half.
Liverpool looked tidy, as you might expect, but as Jarell Quansah skewed a clearance into his own net with the score at 3-0, the foolishness of this format really was exposed.
In amongst a sea of spiralling squad number there was at least one familiar face in the Liverpool line-up, that of Bolton born and bred Nat Phillips.
Son of Jimmy Phillips, the defender must surely have put his hand up to help the youngsters on a pitch he rarely got to grace in his time with Wanderers, which ended in the summer of 2016.
Since being released at the academy he has trained with Huddersfield Town, earned a scholarship in the US, caught the eye of Jurgen Klopp, had a loan with Stuttgart, answered Liverpool’s call in a Premier League defensive crisis and scored his first top-flight goal against Burnley. Not bad going, by anyone’s book.
Wanderers’ line-up contained 10 changes but still appeared a strong one. Brandon Comley made his first Bolton appearance for 10 months as one of the deep-lying midfielders and Will Aimson also showed up well in his debut, having missed a few weeks with a groin injury.
As expected, Liverpool’s youngsters were eager, organised and technically sound. They never really allowed the Whites to settle into a groove in the first half but lacked anything like the same attacking heft. As such, when Bolton ventured forward, they looked like they meant it.
Delfouneso should have scored with eight minutes gone, fed by a lovely through ball from Josh Sheehan on the left side of the penalty box he rushed a shot at Marcelo Pitaluga’s goal.
Thankfully, another chance would come along soon enough. Harry Brockbank showed plenty of enthusiasm to get up and down the right in support of Lloyd Isgrove, and it was his driven cross that allowed Delfouneso to nod in his second goal in this competition this season.
Wanderers could have nudged further ahead through Kachunga, who drove a shot narrowly wide from the edge of the box.
But otherwise it was a matter of keeping their concentration at the back, something the experienced pair of Baptiste and Aimson did well.
Matt Gilks recovered from a nasty knock sustained in a challenge with substitute Isaac Mabaya – himself only on the pitch because of an injury to Matteo Ritaccio, who had left the field in tears.
Wanderers brought on Amadou Bakayoko for the second half, providing the smattering of supporters with the intriguing prospect of seeing him lock horns with Phillips.
Within a few moments he was at full stretch trying to divert a raking ball from Sheehan towards goal.
And it wasn’t long before he was celebrating his first goal since the opening day of the season.
Wanderers produced some fine football down the left as Delfouneso linked up with the overlapping Liam Gordon, and Bakayoko powered home a finish from close range.
Two became three quite quickly as Bolton once again showed their strength out wide – Comley switching a great ball out to the wide for Isgrove, who laid off for Brockbank, and his cross was too hot for Quansah to handle, and he shanked it into the back of his own net.
Evatt was able to bring two of his younger players into the game, swapping Mitchell Henry for Isgrove and giving a debut appearance to midfielder Aaran Pettifer in place of playmaker Sheehan.
As a result, they lost a little of their momentum, and Liverpool were able to snatch a consolation some of their effort had probably deserved.
Elijah Dixon-Bonner found a gap between Aimson and Baptiste, twisting and turning past the latter before skidding a shot past Gilks into the bottom corner.
With the rain belting down, neither side would have objected to referee Andy Haines calling an end to proceedings there and then. Bakayoko will be glad he didn’t, as he was able to snatch a second goal from the penalty spot after jet-heeled youngster Henry drew a foul from Quansah, racing on to George Thomason’s ball over the top.
Bakayoko will probably have hit better penalties but the ball squirmed under Pitaluga’s body to put a satisfyingly definitive distance on the score-line.
Liverpool continued to create chances – sub Oakley Cannonier bursting through with a couple of minutes to go - but their lack of finishing power had been a real difference on the night.
Wanderers will be glad of the opportunity to test some of their more under-used players in a competitive environment but isn't that what the Central League is for? This kind of fixture should be reserved for that kind of outing.
[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]