This may have been Bolton's best team performance of the season. Just about everything was done well, from Dougie Freedman picking the right team to the attackers passing the ball around to the defenders being well-organized to the keeper controlling the box, but the result still went against the Trotters. Premier League side Everton came out with their first XI and scored two fluky goals, one in stoppage time, to get into the hat for the next round of the FA Cup.
Everton's best spell was in the opening 20 minutes, when they had a majority of the possession and were causing Wanderer's defense a lot of trouble, particularly on the right flank. Sam Ricketts was struggling over there, and with Tyrone Mears on the bench, it must have been tempting for Dougie Freedman to make a change. But he didn't, and at about the 18-minute-mark Leighton Baines skinned Ricketts and put in a very dangerous cross. Stephen Peinaar got a touch to it, but it took more than one deflection in the penalty box and found the back of the net. An own goal. Everton were up 1-0.
The goal really seemed to wake Wanderers up. They started to hold possession more, then outright dominate it. A few chances were created, and it finally paid off as Marvin Sordell scored his 4th FA Cup goal of this season. The build up play was really good, and Bolton probably should have made their advantage count and got a second before half-time. Sadly, they did not, and it was all level at the break. Chung-Yong Lee may have played his best 45 minutes of the season in that first half, which is a great thing to see for all involved with Bolton.
The second half was more of the same, as Bolton took over early and passed the ball around with a great deal of confidence. Even the defense looked good. Tim Ream has shown a lot of improvement over the past few weeks, and the team looked very comfortable with him in the middle. Also showing improvement was Marcos Alonso, who has grabbed his opportunity by the scruff of the neck since Stephen Warnock left. Everton created nothing on his side of the field, and could barely contain the young Spaniard when he ventured forward. Despite creating several half chances, they just couldn't claim another goal. Freedman took Chris Eagles off and brought on Benik Afobe, who is a better finisher.
The glory, glory, hallelujah moment came a little later, when Stu Holden finally made his triumphant return to the pitch at the Reebok. The crowd exploded as he replaced Josh Vela and took up residence in the center of the park. Holden had an obvious uplifting effect on the team, and they took the play to another level. The ball started to fly around the park at the feet of the men in white. Holden to Pratley to Spearing to Lee to Ream to Sordell, it was hard to keep up. If you squinted a bit, you could almost picture Okocha to Campo to Gardner to Stelios to Hierro in your mind.
Ngog came on for Sordell, who received a massive ovation. He has completely turned the fans around with his last few performances, and it is now very clear that he will play a big role in the remainder of Bolton's season.
It all looked set up for a Bolton winner, or at the very least a replay at Goodison Park in a fortnight. But alas, the Blues won a late corner, then another. Zat Knight won the header but couldn't get it clear. The ball pinged around Bolton's penalty area for what seemed like an eternity, until finally, tragically, substitute John Heitinga, put it over the line.
Bolton will be gutted they didn't get a deserved victory, or even a replay, but they shouldn't be. This was a great performance against a side currently sitting fifth in the Premier League. Wanderer's best players are finally rounding into fitness and form, and the manager sees fit to play them in their proper positions.
Two clean sheets followed by this display could be a sign of a new Bolton, the Bolton we all thought we would see from the start of the season.