Two down to Newcastle United’s kids, there seemed little chance of a call-back for any of the players looking to push for a place in the league line-up.
But Jak Hickman’s goal on the stroke of half-time prompted a comeback of epic proportions and for the first time since October 2012, a Bolton team battled back from 2-0 down to win a competitive game.
Sub Arthur Gnahoua and Jamie Mascoll made sure Bolton do not end up with the wooden spoon in their Papa John’s Trophy group – and that the winning feeling continues at the University of Bolton Stadium.
Evatt promised wholesale changes and provided them, the line-up completely unrecognisable from the one that faced Salford on Friday night.
Lloyd Isgrove and Shaun Miller were given their first starts for the Whites, and there was a first appearance since September 12 for big defender Reiss Greenidge.
But as the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And there would be a list of all-too-familiar problems that dogged Evatt’s side in the first 45 minutes.
Folk in the North East believe Elliott Anderson might just be the next big thing out of the Toon’s youth ranks, and there was ample evidence to back up that claim from the 18-year-old as he ran Bolton ragged early on.
Even before Anderson opened the scoring 11 minutes in, the lack of communication between goalkeeper, defence and midfield looked an issue as Wanderers unsteadily played the possession game with no great conviction.
And sure enough, the Whites eventually played themselves into trouble. Billy Crellin’s short pass left Brandon Comley floundering and Anderson was able to nip in, skip past a challenge and squeeze a shot between the keeper and near post.
So much has been said about Crellin’s poor form of late, not much really needs to be added by this writer; suffice to say Matt Gilks has got a major confidence-rebuilding job to do if he intends to spend Saturday afternoons in the dugout any time soon.
For Comley, who has been Crellin’s outfield equivalent since the start of the season, the half would not get any easier.
Whereas Friday night’s first team benefited from Gilks’ running commentary, which could be heard high in the stands, the volume was once again turned down after the opening goal.
Wanderers did play in patches. And Hickman managed to link up well on the right with Isgrove to present Miller with a chance 20 minutes in, screwed wide by the former Crewe man.
Ronan Darcy buzzed around effectively, picking off loose passes impressively but then letting himself down slightly with his own final ball.
Greenidge also produced the proverbial mixed bag, producing a string of interceptions and striding out confidently from the back on occasion but, on others, struggling at times against a lively and youthful Magpies attack.
Crellin did show decent awareness to snuff out a chance for Yannick Toure but a few moments later could only watch on helpless as Anderson’s deft volley kissed the ball into the net for the second goal of the night.
Oddly, that sparked Bolton into their best passing movement of the game. And a minute before the break Hickman drove home his first senior goal after some good work on the left by Isgrove and a flick from Miller.
The momentum did not really carry into the second half and the game meandered into nothingness for a good 20 minutes before Evatt threw on Gnahoua for Tom White and added an extra body to his attack.
Within a few minutes, Gnahoua was celebrating his first goal in 10 months, stabbing home Isgrove’s whipped free-kick from the left to level the game.
Evatt handed out two debuts from the bench – first to George Thomason, who had been recalled from a loan spell at Bamber Bridge earlier in the afternoon. The second went to Manchester-born scholar Mitch Henry, who has been with Wanderers since the age of nine.
Newcastle should have wrapped the game up when Toure burst through on to Niall Brockwell’s pass, danced around Crellin, but then somehow smashed the ball into the side-netting from six yards out.
Anderson was also feeling charitable, spurning his hat-trick chance from the edge of the box.
With the game seemingly heading to penalties, Wanderers completed the most unlikely of comebacks.
Greenidge headed against the post but the ball bounced kindly for Mascoll 10 yards out, and the wing-back drilled a half-volley into the net.
The quality was patchy, and Wanderers may have saved their best lines for after the interval, but the record books will show they came back from two down and took the curtain as winners. We’ll take that for the rest of the season.
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