After his form had been put under the microscope by Ian Evatt in no uncertain terms, the Bolton keeper produced a stunning penalty save from Billy Clarke to preserve Bolton’s first home win of the season.
Nathan Delfouneso had opened the scoring 11 minutes in but Bolton never completely took advantage of how poor Bradford had been in the opening half, and their lead hung in the balance until the last kick of the game.
Not that Evatt will mind. He has seen enough late drama at the UniBol this season and, for once, his side were on the beneficial end.
Actually leading in a game has been a foreign experience for Bolton this season. But for their solitary previous win at Harrogate the last time they were in front in a competitive match was way back in March at Burton.
From the off, however, there was a pleasingly snappy attitude among the men in white. The passing was crisp, the movement was decisive and literally any loose pass in the first 45 minutes was gobbled up by a Bolton player.
More often than not, that man was captain Antoni Sarcevic, who patrolled midfield like the Artful Dodger for the vast majority of the game.
Bradford had been lethargic against Newport at the weekend, something which was put down to a change in system by their manager Stuart McCall. But that sluggishness had followed them over the Pennines and they hardly got out of first gear in the opening exchanges.
Former Bolton striker Clayton Donaldson led the line, or at least tried to when he wasn’t being knocked into the front row by the dominant Ricardo Santos.
Bradford manufactured one chance in the first half, falling to Callum Cooke on the half volley. But his effort smacked of a man who has yet to open his scoring account for the Bantams and was sliced woefully over the bar.
Bolton seized on every opening they were given. Driven by a midfield trio of Sarcevic, Andy Tutte and Ali Crawford, this was much more like the gameplan Evatt had been looking to introduce from the moment he walked through the door. And better still, it was on home turf.
Delfouneso’s opening goal summed up the visitors’ malaise. Elliott Watt got caught watching a bouncing ball on the edge of his own box and Sarcevic nipped in to lift the ball over the advancing keeper, Richard O’Donnell. Unfortunately it bounced back off the bar and the retreating Watt then managed to head his own clearance against the woodwork.
Waiting patiently for the crossbar challenge to end, Delfouneso was not going to miss an opportunity from 10 yards out to score his third goal of the season.
There were opportunities for more. Peter Kioso continued to get into good positions, as did Harry Brockbank on the opposite flank.
Crawford dipped a free-kick just over the crossbar just before the interval, leaving just the slightest concern in the back of Bolton minds that having dominated to such an extent, the 1-0 scoreline hardly provided a true reflection.
Bolton’s intricate football around the penalty box continued, manufacturing half-chances for Brockbank and Crawford within a few moments of the restart.
But the fragility of the lead was underlined when Bryce Hosannah cut inside Kioso and the whole Bolton goal opened up for a moment. Thankfully for Crellin, however, all the sting of the shot was taken off by a heroic block from Baptiste.
The danger signs continued. Santos took a heavy touch 25 yards from his own goal that almost let in Donaldson, then Crellin came flying off his line to take a fresh air shot at a ball down the right channel, only for the ball to run out of play.
As the hour ticked by, Bradford went even closer. Hosannah nudged the ball into the side of the net after Donaldson had got the better of Santos.
There were calls from the Bradford dugout after Ryan Delaney had come clattering across the area to make the block but they were waved away by referee Ben Toner.
Wanderers were suddenly ignoring the defensive basics that had kept Bradford a footnote in the first half. They remained a huge threat on the break and Crawford looked intent on scoring a textbook goal in the top right corner – putting three identikit shots into the stands.
And then it happened. Anthony O’Connor broke into the box and was tripped by Delfouneso, leaving referee Toner with no option but to point to the spot.
It was all building up for Crellin to play some defining part for Wanderers, wouldn’t you just know he would get down low to his right to push Clarke’s penalty away?
Moments later he leapt to pluck a corner out of the air and diffuse another spell of pressure. At that stage it would have been easy to suggest a turning point for player and club.
Alas, things do not run that smoothly for Wanderers and every single nerve was shredded by the time Toner signalled for the final whistle.
Crawford missed a golden chance for the second after Arthur Gnahoua had done superbly to turn the ball back from the byline into his path 10 yards out. Delfouneso then nudged a shot over the bar from Sarcevic’s centre.
Evatt brought on Brandon Comley and Jamie Mascoll for the tiring Tutte and Brockbank but by then the game had turned into attack v defence and it was clear every second ticking down on the big screen in the corner would be hard work.
When Anthony O’Connor cut in past Mascoll with two minutes left on the clock, you could hear the collective intake of breath from the diners at the Bolton Whites as it whizzed past the post.
Crellin nearly blotted his copybook with a rush of blood which saw him caught under a high ball late on – but Delaney was again on hand to make a crucial intervention.
Even Ronan Darcy, on as a 90th minute sub, chipped in with some intelligent and, crucially, time-wasting runs into the corner.
The cries of relief at the final whistle from the Bolton dugout said it all. Home is sweet again.
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