Woeful Wanderers were blown away in the gales at Fleetwood after a display which goes down as one of the real low points of Ian Evatt’s tenure.
Out-fought and out-played in most aspects by a team which had taken just two points out of the last available 24, Bolton failed miserably to adapt to conditions – and not for the first time this season.
After Ged Garner had given Fleetwood an early lead, Harrison Biggins piled on the misery with two rapid goals in the 77th and 79th.
To make matters worse, Ricardo Santos was also given a straight red card by referee Seb Stocksbridge, ruling him out of the weekend’s trip to Accrington.
Wanderers made two changes to the side that had beaten Fleetwood in the Papa John’s Trophy, swapping George Johnston for Alex Baptiste at the back, and bringing in Elias Kachunga for Xav Amaechi on the right side of attack.
The team had used their free weekend to fine-tune some new tactical plans on the training ground but as wild as the weather can get at Lostock at this time of year, it has absolutely nothing on the Fylde Coast in the grip of Storm Barra.
With any sensible type of football made difficult by the swirling winds and the driving rain, which started to fall almost exactly as the game kicked off, Evatt’s side looked a little bewildered in the first 45 minutes.
Kicking into the breeze, they neither got their passing game going on the floor, nor really manage to use the conditions to their advantage with a succession of corners and set pieces.
Ricardo Santos had talked before the game about the need to “win ugly” but within six minutes any gameplan went out of the window as Bolton were carved open down their right side, Danny Andrew crossing low for Ged Garner to turn home at the near post.
Every pass Fleetwood played forward caught on the wind, turning the Whites defence and leaving Joel Dixon to make some awkward clearances in the early stages.
And as Wanderers started to get to grips with the weird and wonderful weather, the chances started to arrive. Will Aimson headed wide from Declan John’s corner and Eoin Doyle had a goal disallowed for offside after Alex Cairns had pushed aside a flick from George Johnston.
There had been some pre-match nerves about advertising hoardings blowing around the pitch – and as the wording above the scoreboard started to peel away, you wondered whether ref Seb Stocksbridge was going to have to make a decision at one stage or another.
We had a floodlight fail, a beach ball swirl around the penalty box, and then on the stroke of half time a duck enter the field of play. It was starting to become less like a League One game and more like a cheese dream.
A goal deficit actually began to feel manageable as the half drew to a close. Fleetwood had a couple of big penalty appeals turned down as first Cian Hayes and then Callum Morton went to ground under some frantic Bolton defending.
Wanderers looked more up for the second half and even employed their own long throw, with George Johnston launching a few missiles which are most un-Evatt like.
Afolayan started to come into his own, creating one great opportunity for Doyle when he spun 35 yards out and beat two challenges – but Cairns was equal to the Irishman’s skidding shot.
Moments later Aimson clipped a lofted cross to the far post which landed perfectly for John, and again, the finishing touch was lacking.
Fleetwood, with a goal lead to defend, were able to sit in with 10 players behind the ball, but that is not to say they stopped creating chances. Garner should have had a second on the hour mark after being played clear through the middle by Paddy Lane, steering a shot inches wide of the post.
Wanderers’ 1,100 fans sensed the shift, some chanting at their manager to “sort it out”.
Kachunga could have done just that, spinning on to Doyle’s cross but, sadly, driving his shot straight into the midriff of Carins yet again.
Evatt brought on Xav Amaechi and switched to 4-3-3 but there was hardly a chance for the new shape to take effect when Santos was handed a straight red card for hacking down Morton on the edge of the box.
Andrew blasted the free kick wide, giving Wanderers a glimmer of hope, but with Alex Baptiste brought on to replace Doyle, the chances of an equaliser looked slimmer than they had all night.
To emphasise how out of sorts they now looked, Bolton were now relying on Johnston’s lofty throws to get them back into the game.
And with two quick-fire blows, any hope of that happening was extinguished with 10 minutes still to play.
Fleetwood’s second was an incisive break, Morton driving down the left, the ball shifted from Garner to Biggins for a neat finish 10 yards out.
The theme tune to Captain Pugwash had barely finished by the time Biggins was celebrating again, this time cutting in from the left side of the box before drilling a low shot past Dixon from an angle.
Fleetwood coasted the rest of the game, with many of the Bolton supporters filing out early in disappointment at what they had just witnessed.
[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]