Dennis Politic had been one of the few rays of hope in last season’s relegation and had lost none of his swagger in his opening few games of the summer. Buoyed by a new contract, he looked well-prepared to tear into League Two and continue his upward trajectory.
All of which made the sound of the 20-year-old screaming in agony after collapsing to the turf with 10 minutes to go all the more heart-wrenching.
The game had long been won. Wanderers were six goals to the good and though Politic typically continued to harass and chase, the pace had ebbed in unison with the rising midday temperatures.
Loughborough is just about as far from the sea as you can get in the United Kingdom and the bowl-like topography made pitch-side temperatures climb above 30 degrees.
With a click of the fingers, a routine victory became a result overshadowed by disappointment. Politic had to be given oxygen by medical staff from both teams and was stretchered off the field after eight minutes having laid frighteningly still on the turf.
For those with long memories, it was a scene reminiscent of Chung-Yong Lee’s terrible leg break at Newport County nearly a decade ago. The seriousness of the situation exacerbated by the stony silence and the fact every syllable could be heard by concerned faces in the stands.
Predictably, Politic dominated the post-match discussion. Evatt vowed to give his young charge every bit of support he could in his recovery and rallied the shell-shocked troops in the dressing room with a speech designed to try and snap them out of any concern for their team-mate.
In the coming days, with the club staying at Loughborough to make use of the state-of-the-art sporting facilities, the head coach must now find a way to ensure his players do not dwell on misfortune, for that is a trap Bolton team’s have fallen into in the past.
In truth, this had been the performance which raised the most questions of any of the three in pre-season so far.
The standard of opposition – equivalent of North West Counties – meant it was no surprise that Bolton dominated possession. On occasion they clicked effortlessly into gear and rattled their first three goals in a four-minute spell.
In others, they laboured to break down a team who had dropped back to defend their penalty box, and one who were no averse to dishing out some overtly physical challenges as the game wore on.
If Wanderers are to dominate possession in the way we hope they may, their temperament will be tested during this League Two season. They must show patience to pass and probe without rushing a risky pass and avoid reacting to any of the dark defending arts which might come their way.
Had the 90 minutes had a brighter conclusion you might have suggested this was a good lesson learned on university grounds, yet Evatt was forced into a very different lecture after the final whistle to try and keep spirits up.
Ali Crawford played a slightly deeper role in midfield than he did against Atherton Colls and Bamber Bridge, with Antoni Sarcevic pushed further up behind front two, Eoin Doyle and Nathan Delfouneso.
The Scot opening the scoring on 16 minutes when he bundled in Gethin Jones’s cross from the right and he then turned creator with a corner for George Taft’s unchecked header to make it three, four minutes later.
In between, Sarcevic smashed home a shot from the edge of the box which summed up what has been a fairly spectacular start to pre-season for the Whites, on this evidence a very good team to watch.
There had been a few lackadaisical passes across the back line which drew scorn from the dugout – and would perhaps have been punished by better sides – but by the time Delfouneso finished off a wonderful flowing move involving Brandon Comley and the ever-willing Jones, the Scholars were looking vulnerable in the extreme.
Liam Gordon has not passed up an opportunity to fill in the penalty box since signing for the club from Dagenham and Redbridge and fully deserved a bit of luck after the break when Delfouneso’s shot looped up for him to nod in at the far post for the fifth.
Delfouneso knew little about his second of the day – but had done the hard work in pressing the goalkeeper, who defied the age-old logic of not passing across an unguarded goal. The ball bounced apologetically into the net and though a raft of substitutions were due, the seven Bolton scored at Brig on Saturday was looking a bare minimum target.
Yet the younger set of players who came on for the final half an hour allowed themselves to get sucked into a contest they didn’t need to engage in. The referee dished out a couple of yellow cards and some harsh warnings for challenges which really did not belong in this sort of game. And Wanderers were no angels on that front, let it be said.
Politic should have scored after some good work from Tom White on the right and Muhammadu Faal also went close with an impressive bit of close control and a shot which flew a few inches wide.
Harry Brockbank stood out among the late subs, playing on the right side of the back three. It has been difficult to gauge whether he will be loaned out for experience or retained as a first team option – but on this evidence he looks to be playing for the latter.
What little air there was around the stadium seemed to be sucked out when Politic hit the deck in the 80th minute.
As the gravity of the situation became clear, Evatt ran on to the field to try and comfort the 20-year-old. Team-mates tried to occupy themselves, stay warm, all the while casting anxious glances towards the youngster laid prone.
Had the game been called by the referee at that stage there would not have been a complaint in sight. Yet the final 10 minutes were played out at half-pace, to a conclusion that can hardly be described as satisfying.
The scoreboard said comfortable win but the mood at pitch-side was decidedly less so.
Wanderers (3-4-1-2): Crellin; Santos (Brockbank 58), Baptiste (Senior 58), Taft (Delaney 46); Jones (Hickman 52), Crawford (Politic 57 (Graham 88), Comley (White 46), Gordon (King-Harmes 57); Sarcevic (Darcy 57); Delfouneso (Trailist 59), Doyle (Faal 59).
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