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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » MARC ILES' BIG-MATCH VERDICT: Bolton 2-3 Crewe (EFL Trophy)

MARC ILES' BIG-MATCH VERDICT: Bolton 2-3 Crewe (EFL Trophy)

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Wanderers may well live up to their billing as great entertainers this season but Ian Evatt’s team will need to find a bit more mettle if they are to prove title challengers.

After two softs goals had been their undoing against Bradford City in the Carabao Cup, they undid all their hard work against Crewe in the EFL Trophy with more slack work at the back.

Ryan Delaney and Shaun Miller twice brought the Whites back into the game in the second half after Mikael Mandron and Owen Dale had put the League One side ahead.

Then, after wasting a couple of decent chances to seize the advantage themselves, a soft penalty with 60 seconds left on the clock left Evatt staring at a second successive defeat.

There was plenty to admire from Wanderers in an attacking sense in the second half as Ali Crawford grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck – but that soft centre will be a worry for the head coach as the league opener against Forest Green comes into view.

Evatt surprised some by making just four changes to the line-up beaten by Bradford at the weekend, including a full debut for Jak Hickman and a first start since January for defender Harry Brockbank.

The academy graduate had been sidelined by Keith Hill at the end of last season, so his wait for a competitive return had been even longer than most.

But as part of a defensive unit that also included Ryan Delaney and George Taft, things were a little sloppy in the first half, not least for the visitors’ opening goal.

Evatt had taken his defenders to one side in training on Monday to explain some of the areas they could improve on, so a penny for his thoughts when Mandron headed home unchallenged at the far post from a routine free-kick.

There were plenty of white shirts around the former Gillingham man as Callum Ainley aimed a flat delivery into the six-yard box but it was with alarming simplicity that he was able to nudge the ball past Billy Crellin – who had already at that point made a good save from Josh Lundstram.

Hickman looked eager to impress and there were a few half-hearted appeals for a penalty when he was barged over by Crewe keeper Dave Richards trying to get on the end of Nathan Delfouneso’s left-wing cross.

There was more width about Wanderers’ play than there had been on Saturday, and much of it was coming from the former Coventry City man, playing as a right wing-back.

Midway through the half he cut in on his left and had a shot blocked which nearly fell for Eoin Doyle, sparking a moment of panic which was arguably as good as it got for the Whites in the opening 45 minutes.

Crawford was also back in the starting line-up and grew in stature as the game went on. Evatt had called for a bit more invention in the final third and the Scot is more than capable but for much of the first half Doyle and Nathan Delfouneso wore the same pained expression as nothing Bolton tried quite came off.

Crewe are a league above and had welcomed a handful of their first team players back after a weekend defeat to Lincoln.

The Railwaymen finished strongly and could have had a second when Offrande Zanzala’s bouncing cross was allowed to travel across Wanderers’ penalty box before being turned towards goal by Ainley. Thankfully, Crellin was again alert, adding to half a dozen very decent saves he has already made since signing for the club.

Wanderers had possession but never maintained the same level of control they had for long periods against Bradford. Part of that was the excellent press that Crewe were operating, which gave the likes of Delaney and Taft little chance of playing the way they wanted through midfield.

In comparison, Bolton’s frontline press was a little slow to kick in at times. Crewe were able to saunter into enemy territory and dissect the Whites with a simplicity which had Evatt shaking his head in disappointment.

If he had some harsh words to say at half-time it would not have been a surprise. And just as they did at the weekend, they prompted a rapid response.

Brockbank’s cross from the right caused panic in the Crewe ranks and from the resulting corner, Crawford whipped in a fine ball, turned back at the far post by Doyle for Delaney to tap home.

Doyle should have made it two a few minutes later as he got on the end of another lovely cross from Hickman, the Irishman just failing to curve a header back beyond Richards’ reach.

Any hopes that they were going to run on and seize control were dashed as Mandron nearly grabbed a second, squeezing a shot past Crellin only for Delaney to hook the ball off the line.

Evatt made changes – bringing Brandon Comley and Miller on for Delfouneso and Tom White – and almost immediately his side fell behind.

This time there was little anyone could do as Dale drifted in to hammer a 25-yard shot out of nowhere to leave Crellin rooted to the spot.

Wanderers responded well. Doyle ran in on Miller’s through ball but could only squeeze a shot inches wide of the post.

It was the kind of chance the Irishman would normally gobble up – but credit to him when a few moments later he played a major part in Miller’s equaliser.

It was a well-crafted effort from start to finish as Brockbank, Doyle and Crawford all kept the pressure on inside the penalty box before ex-Crewe man Miller curled in a brilliant effort into the far corner.

The 32-year-old striker was announced just 90 minutes before kick-off on Saturday and hardly had a chance to influence the game after coming on as a second-half sub. But here he looked extremely tidy in a half-hour cameo.

With the minutes ticking down to a shoot-out for an extra point, Doyle had one more chance to open his Wanderers account.

Some great build up involving the increasingly-effective Crawford and sub Gethin Jones ended with the Irishman tipping a shot inches wide at the near post.

The game was decided from 12 yards – but only with a solitary spot kick. It came after Charlie Kirk was tripped quite blatantly by Taft as another straight ball split the Bolton defence. Mandron drilled in the penalty and it was game over.

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
It’s almost like they’re teasing us - there’s something there but it’s not quite right.

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