Bolton’s search for an away win continues after a disappointing and undeserved defeat at the City Ground which was there for the taking. After conceding in the 2nd minute to Barrie McKay’s goal Wanderers dominated the game and got level just before half-time through Will Buckley. However, Bolton missed chances early in the second-half before a clinical Notts Forest scored twice with a late own goal making the score line respectable for the Whites. Thankfully, none of the Bottom Three managed more than a point which leaves us above the safety line still, but their results highlight how vital a win in this game could have been.
The line-up from Wanderers was unchanged from the win over Barnsley, despite the return from suspension of David Wheater, with Reece Burke keeping his place in what Phil Parkinson called ‘a tactical decision’. Former Bolton attacker, Zach Clough, took a place on the bench for Forest, a place he would keep throughout the game unfortunately for him. Despite Parkinson’s belief that the more pacy Burke would help Bolton deal with the Tricky Trees’ mobile forwards, surprisingly it was Antonee Robinson whose failings would lead to the opening goal. A ball was played down Forest’s right and knocked on by Michael Mancienne who clearly led with an elbow on Buckley. Play was allowed to continue and Tyler Walker, son of Des, outmuscled and outstripped Robinson to cross for a simple tap-in for McKay. Referee, Darren England, apologised for the decision to allow play to continue after the game but it made no difference to Wanderers who now had an uphill task against a side they had been battered by on their previous visit.
Thankfully, the goal was met by a decision from the home team to stop attacking altogether, despite the goal coming a mere two minutes in. Bolton had, for what must be the first time all season, more possession than the opposition in the first half and while there was a considerable dearth of chances they certainly looked the more likely. Walker did manage a shot from the edge of the box that Ben Alnwick spilled, causing a nervous moment before Burke cleared the loose ball, but that shot aside it was a half of few chances and minimal Forest forays into Bolton territory. Wanderers’ wingers were causing most of the problems and Sammy Ameobi saw a shot fly narrowly wide from 30 yards before his most telling contribution came on the stroke of half-time. The big man had the beating of Eric Lichaj all game for both pace and strength. Rolling the American for the umpteenth time he played a lovely ball into the box for Josh Vela. The midfielder had both Gary Madine and Will Buckley to aim at and when his lofted ball went over the striker, Buckley flew in with a diving header to power past Jordan Smith in the Forest goal. It was no more than Wanderers deserved and was a huge fillip to take into the second period.
As the Whites came out for the second half there was certainly a lot of purpose to their play as they look to take advantage of Forests dip, not helped by the City Ground faithful’s very realistic morgue impression. Buckley, naturally buoyed by his goal, was tearing Mancienne apart with regularity and got in behind at least 3 times only for a last-ditch block to deny him. It was another impressive showing from the former Brighton man and one feels he could be a key player for Wanderers if he stays fit. The first big chance of the half however came from a corner whipped in by Vela. Madine rose like a salmon, completely unmarked, and powered the header towards goal. The connection was perfect, the timing too, but the accuracy (as it is so often for Big Gaz) was lacking. As the ball flew past the post long in the tooth Wanderers fans had a sinking feeling they had seen this story before. The worst was yet to come however.
Only minutes later, as Wanderers continued to pile on unanswered pressure, Buckley was set free by Ameobi down the right and dinked in a lovely cross that found Vela unmarked and 6 yards from goal. The midfielder somehow conspired to head over the bar with the goal at his mercy. Perhaps a taller man would have done better, and as it went over one just knew the Whites would be punished for it. The old adage about not taking chances never fails to come true, especially for Wanderers, and as if on cue, Forest went up the other end and punished us. They hadn’t seen any of the ball all half, but Walker managed to cross into the box and though Mark Little, last week’s Man of the Match, cleared it, his header was tame and really should have gone back to Alnwick. Instead it dropped invitingly to the edge of the box where it found centre-half, Joe Worrall, who fired the ball into the corner for his first Forest goal. It was gut-wrenching for Bolton and totally undeserved, but they had nobody but themselves to blame.
After falling behind, any momentum the Whites had was totally lost and Forest set about killing the game. Though all the pressure was provided by Bolton (naturally given they were behind) they couldn’t muster any chances of note down to tiredness, lack of confidence and dogged Forest defending. The Whites’ frustration was summed up by Madine’s battle with former Wanderer, Matt Mills. The Bolton striker went down at least six times under hefty challenges from the centre-half and, while his reaction was often melodramatic, he got nothing by means of a decision from Mr England. This was further compounded as the clock ticked down by a goal to seal the win for Forest, coming in the 89th minute from substitute, Ben Brereton. As Bolton pushed to gain a point, taking off Mark Little for Aaron Wilbraham, space opened up for a simple through ball to find the young striker. His finish wasn’t easy on the eye but it deceived Alnwick, who didn’t have much to do all game which could account for him not saving said effort, and guaranteed victory......or so we thought.
Moments later, as 4 minutes of additional time was shown on the board, Wanderers had a free-kick and thus a good crossing opportunity to find both the big men up front. Wilbraham was found and kept the ball in play, crossing to the back post where Madine found Darren Pratley on the edge of the box. The Captain drove at Smith, forcing him to parry into Wilbraham’s path. The old timer’s cross hit goal scorer Worrall and flew into the net, giving Bolton hope. It was, of course, false hope and though Wilbraham continued to be a nuisance the game petered out and saw Wanderers succumb to defeat in a match they could easily have won. It is now a 36 game winless streak away from home in the Championship. The game against Burton Albion was going to be important anyway, but it now is the biggest game of the season so far. Anything less than victory will be unacceptable but, on the positive side, a similar performance to this one should see us through. COYWM