Wanderers flexed their attacking muscles once again to make it a winning Easter weekend against Accrington Stanley.
After Dapo Afolayan’s first-half effort was pegged back by Jay Rich-Baghuelou, Ian Evatt exchanged his whole front line with almost instantaneous results.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson came off the bench to grab two goals, securing a first-ever league win against Stanley and helping Wanderers climb back into the top 10.
Evatt made four changes to the side that beat Doncaster Rovers on Good Friday, with Xavier Amaechi coming in for only his third start of the season.
The former Arsenal winger had last started in the Papa John’s Trophy back in November and has had little chance to showcase himself this season. And in truth, his lack of game time showed.
Evatt had changed to a 4-2-3-1 formation, giving Amaechi the chance to play wide right and Dapo Afolayan the opportunity to move back to his favoured left.
Elias Kachunga and Dion Charles also returned to the side, as expected, but despite changing out his whole front line, Evatt will have been disappointed with the cumbersome start his side made to the game.
Accrington offered very little going forward, seemingly content with pot shots from distance, but Bolton’s passing game lacked any sort of penetration for the majority of the half and with a bumper Bank Holiday crowd in the building, the frustration became audible at one stage.
Wanderers produced little quality in the early stages, their best chance coming when Michael Nottingham’s poor back-pass forced keeper Toby Savin to scamper off his line and slide into a challenge with Charles – the ball spinning out to Amaechi, who could not lift his angled shot into the empty net from a good 30 yards.
Playing against the club he left in January, Northern Ireland international Charles had played nearly 15 hours of football for club and country without a goal. And with the small travelling support on his back from the first whistle, he looked desperate to produce something by way of a response.
He got a good chance midway through the half when George Johnston’s headed clearance dropped over the top of Ross Skyes, but after steering the ball past the advancing Savin he could only watch his shot skim agonisingly wide of the post.
Other than speculative shots from distance, Accrington threatened James Trafford’s goal just once as Nottingham got on the end of Sean McConville’s cross, heading straight at the Whites keeper.
Around the 40-minute mark things finally started to liven up. Referee Thomas Bramall had produced a flurry of yellow cards to try and keep order but the game’s newfound feistiness seemed to work in Wanderers’ favour.
Afolayan – never far away from the action – sparked things off with a trademark drop of the shoulder and a curling shot that dropped just wide of the post.
A couple of minutes later he was celebrating the opening goal. Accrington couldn’t clear their lines and when Afolayan caught Mitch Clark in possession, that same movement, the quick shift in balance, helped him bury a shot into the bottom corner from just inside the penalty area.
Wanderers continued that momentum at the start of the second half, twice breaking on the counter-attack but failing to find the right final pass.
Accrington took full advantage. Tommy Leigh’s long throws had been a perpetual feature of the game and after one was half-cleared, it was his cross that found its way to Jay Rich-Baghuelou to volley home his first senior goal.
The visitors then enjoyed their strongest spell of the game, pinning Bolton back with McConville supplying a constant stream of crosses.
Evatt knew he had to change the narrative and did so by swapping back most of his front line.
Within two minutes, Bodvarsson had exchanged passes with his fellow replacement Amadou Bakayoko and restored the lead.
The Icelander has really come into his own in recent weeks, now showing some of the sharpness he had lost wiling away on the Millwall bench at the start of the season. His finish was pure class and deserved to win any game. As it turned out, he would still have something to say.
The drama was far from over, of course. The UniBol has become a mecca for late goals this season and Stanley thought they had grabbed one when Leigh turned in McConville’s cross.
Racing to the away fans and sliding theatrically on his knees, Leigh’s joy was tempered somewhat by the sight of the linesman holding his flag up.
Moments later, the visitors’ chances evaporated completely as Rosaire Longelo was given a straight red card for a poor challenge on Aaron Morley.
Referee Bramall had already set his tolerance level pretty low and with eight yellow cards already out there, the chances of both sides keeping 11 players on the pitch looked low.
Bodvarsson made doubly sure there would not be another comeback. As Wanderers flooded forward on a counter, he cut inside to drive a low shot off the base of the post for his sixth goal since signing in January.
Bakayoko nearly grabbed a fourth with a similarly incisive break in stoppage time, his shot whizzing a couple of inches wide of the upright.
Another sub, Kieran Sadlier, also turned a far post volley into the side netting after more good work from Bodvarsson, whose brilliant cross with the outside of his right foot is worth repeated viewing.
Family Fun Day had lived up to its name. And at this rate, next season is going to be must-see viewing.
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