Bolton's trip to Prenton Park should have been a foregone conclusion more than anything else. After all, it's a Championship side that was, at the start of the season anyway, fancied to put in a convincing fight for promotion back to the top flight vs. a very midtable League One side. Despite not having won any of their opening four matches of the season, it was still reasonable to expect a comfortable Bolton win or, at the very least, a good fight.
That's not how it happened. A woeful Bolton side in the first half were punished by Tranmere Rovers accordingly and when they finally looked like doing something, it was all a bit too late. You can't really blame the lineup that Dougie Freedman started with either as it was a chance to give the youth a competitive run out. Sanmi Odelusi, Rob Hall, Tom Eaves, and Josh Vela all started the match with Tom Youngs and Cian Bolger manning the bench.
Darren Pratley returned from suspension to start and was set to be handed the captain's armband before David Wheater picked up a knock in warmups and was forced to miss out. The late change saw Zat Knight step into the starting lineup and, as club captain, he was handed the armband. Tyrone Mears and Matt Mills started in defense, ahead of Andy Lonergan, with Alex Baptiste switching flanks to an unfamiliar role on the left.
The first half was a whole lot of half chances as Tranmere Rovers pressured without really threatening the goal. They racked up corner after corner, with seven the final count at the break, but couldn't capitalize on any of them. Then, in first half stoppage time, Rovers struck. It was Cole Stockton with the goal after the broke for him just outside the area. His deft first touch took him past a useless Zat Knight and his curling strike beat Andy Lonergan without much fuss. 1-1.
Bolton started the second half on a much better note, actually pushing into Tranmere's attacking third and giving Owain fon Williams some trouble in the Rovers goal. The attacking impetus was really added with the inclusion of Andre Moritz and Jermaine Beckford on the 60 and 64 minute marks, respectively. Just one minute after Beckford's introduction, Bolton struck. Andre Moritz played a clever through ball to the striker, who was streaking into the air as he is wont to do. Beckford spotted the onrushing goalkeeper and did well to prod it home.
The Trotters were not yet finished putting the ball into the back of the net but the issue was that none of the two or three further goals would count. Tom Eaves could have netted up to a hat trick in the second half if not for his chipped effort being cleared off the line by a Tranmere defender. There were two further chances with the linesman raising his flag on both occasions in what looked to be very tight calls.
The match would wander into extra time with nervy moments for both teams but neither side could make the breakthrough and eventually, Bolton entered their first (competitive) penalty shootout since 2001. Tranmere would sink all four of their chances while Wanderers would literally and figuratively stutter. Andre Moritz attempted a cheeky stutter step attempt that was well saved by fon Williams before Jermaine Beckford and Matt Mills nailed theirs. It was up to Alex Baptiste to give Andy Lonergan and Bolton Wanderers one more chance but his poor attempt (not really near the corner and thus easy to keep out) was saved by the goalkeeper.
Bolton crash out.