The new season is upon us. And just like every other pre-season in recent memory, it did not start off with a win.
The Baby Wanderers took on North West Counties Division 1 champions Atherton Collieries in what you could call a local-friendly-derby, the match finishing 1-1 in front of a crowd of 1,499. I only hope the other 1,498 remembered their sun cream. We now know the reason why Eidur has left - he can't handle the cruel summer heat of 2015. Anyway, onto the match.
The first half saw some semi-recognisable faces in the Bolton Wanderers XI. Kaiyne Woolery and Conor Wilkinson started up front, with recent development squad signing Jordan Lussey starting on the right of a midfield diamond. Spanish trialist John Ceberio started at the tip of the diamond, yet was largely unimpressive, and couldn't get a foothold in the game.
Alex Finney, who captained the side in the first half, gave an assured performance at centre back, accompanied by Nat son-of-Jimmy Phillips. In what was a scrappy first half in which neither team took control, it was Rob Holding who stood out for the Wanderers, getting forward from right back at every opportunity, showing some good touches and causing Atherton left back Jake Kenny all sorts of problems.
However, as the half drew to a close and the sun began to turn my skin a less than attractive baby pink, the first half ended with neither team breaking the deadlock. The closest Wanderers came was an offside finish by Conor Wilkinson, who had pounced on a rebound from a Kaiyne Woolery shot. It must be said that, as the most "senior" player on the pitch, Wilkinson was thoroughly disappointing, and is nowhere near first teams standards. The very fact that he is not on the plane to Austria tomorrow suggests that his career at Wanderers has an expiry date. Woolery, on the other hand, was a handful, and show glimpses of quality. We may be seeing more of him in the coming season.
The second half saw both sides make eleven changes, the semi-recognisable names in this Wanderers XI being Will Jaaskelainen and Jamie Thomas.
The Wanderers team that stepped out in the now glorious-but-painful July sun looked even younger than that of the first half. The tempo as the game wore on improved after a shocking first 20 minutes, in which little of note occured. The deadlock was broken when Atherton goalkeeper Danny Taberner, once of Rochdale, saved a close range shot from Bolton 19 A. Trialist, only for the man between the sticks to bring Trialist down on the rebound. Jamie Thomas stepped up, and buried the penalty into the bottom right hand corner.
With 10 minutes to go, Bolton led 1-0. Soon after, Thomas was brought off with what I can only assume was an injury, as he had done little wrong in his time on the pitch. Left back Max Allan had an impressive game, keen to get his foot on the ball and drive forward when possible. Wanderers' late pressure again told when Taberner once again conceded a penalty, this time felling Enoch Likoy-Elumba in the box. Elumba stepped up, and dragged his effort wide of the bottom right hand post which Thomas had dispatched his penalty into just six minutes earlier.
Neil Lennon was in attendance, wearing what I must say was a rather ambitious pink t-shirt in the dug out. And in true Neil Lennon Wanderers style, a late goal was just around the corner. Will Jaaskelainen, who'd had little to do in the second half, should have done better with Wes Bancroft's effort, who equalised with three minutes left on the clock. Some things never change.
As the Atherton heat cooked me into a nice medium-rare state, the final whistle blew. All in all, an enjoyable day out with mediocre football on show. But it was football. And Lord, how I have missed it. Atherton Collieries were more than hospitable to the visiting Wanderers fans, and some vital funds were raised on the day through ticket sales, raffle tickets (the top prize being a worn Emile Heskey Aston Villa shirt) and beer. You never know, maybe we could do Wigan that sort of favour in 10 years time.
Post script - a Wanderers fan near me asked Lennon if he was staying, to which he replied "yes". I don't know what he expected him to reply with, but make of that what you will.
I'm off for some more after sun. God, it's good to be back.