A Championship team that's supposed to be pretty strong versus League One opposition that just lost 5-0 in the league and couldn't field a full matchday 18. It sounds like an easy task, right? Only Bolton Wanderers would find a way to make it tough against Tranmere Rovers in Capital One Cup play. Honestly, it might have been the most Bolton Wanderers performance that we've seen just far this season, at least in the first half.
Before the opening whistle even blew, Wanderers took a hit with David Wheater suffering a knock in the pre-match warmups. He would be replaced by Zat Knight in a lineup full of youngsters. Dougie Freedman was finally giving youth a chance by starting the first round heroes (Sanmi Odelusi & Rob Hall) along with Tom Eaves up front and Josh Vela in midfield. In addition to that, Tom Youngs and Cian Bolger made the bench. Rovers were dealing with six injuries and one red card absence, forcing five changes to the team and leaving just four men on their bench.
It was, in truth, an absolutely dire first half from the Trotters who managed to not do much of anything positive in the attacking third in what seemed like a major case of deja vu. Bolton's only half chance of the half came when an optimistic Rob Hall effort from distance kindly made its way to Owain fon Williams, who held it easily enough.
Tranmere pressed Bolton and they pressed hard, forcing corner after corner (seven was the count at the break), before scoring the opening goal. It came through Cole Stockton from just inside Bolton's penalty area on the stroke of halftime. The forward chested it down to himself in space and curled the effort with his right foot to the far post, around Andy Lonergan.
The second half was a much better showing from the whites who started pushing forward not long after the break. It then changed completely with Dougie's introduction of Jermaine Beckford on the hour mark and Andre Moritz some five minutes after that. An intelligent pass from Moritz just a minute after his introduction was finished very well by Beckford for his first goal and Bolton were level.
The match went into extra time with neither side making the breakthrough. Bolton had their chances but, true to form, they were either high, wide, or right at the goalkeeper. Tom Eaves was unlucky to have three goals called off and Wanderers could not make the breakthrough.
Penalties and Bolton would lose 4-2. Awful, terrible stuff.
The match was way more difficult for Bolton than it should have been and that's an issue. It can't be this difficult to keep a clean sheet, can it? Moritz and Beckford combining well is a major positive for the Trotters going forward. Following the pair's inclusion, Bolton were immeasurably better and that was good to see. One of the strikers has finally scored a goal but the Trotters have to be much, much better going forward. There's a long way to go.