Bolton lost their recent unbeaten home record in a must-win Six Pointer with Burton Albion, putting in one their worst displays of the season (which is saying something given some of our results this year). Perennial goal scorer against Wanderers, Lloyd Dyer, scored the only goal of the game with a bouncing long-range pot shot that somehow eluded Ben Alnwick. Though the Whites did create some good chances to get back into the game it was a thoroughly insipid display, reminiscent of our 1-1 draw with Yeovil in 2013.
An injury to Mark Little meant that Phil Parkinson was forced into handing Stephen Darby a rare start at right-back while David Wheater returned to the centre of defence, coming in for Reece Burke. Wanderers had very few attacking options on the bench due to absence of Adam’s Armstrong and Le Fondre, making us look somewhat lightweight if we needed to change the game. We did, however, make the early inroads with Will Buckley looking to continue his impressive recent form by forcing veteran ‘Keeper, Stephen Bywater, into an early save. On the other wing, Sammy Ameobi broke away after Burton pressure. He had an easy ball to play to Gary Madine that would have given the striker a one-on-one chance, but his pass lacked conviction and the chance came to nothing. These early half-chances did at least offer some positivity.
The opportunities continued with Buckley having the best thus far: Madine chipped a cross into the six-yard box for Josh Vela who managed to head the ball to Buckley, but his volley wasn’t hit with much conviction being easily smothered by Bywater. At this point Burton managed to muster some shots with Dyer seeing a rasping drive stopped by Alnwick and former Wanderer, Marvin Sordell, seeing a decent opportunity blocked. Dyer however was not to be denied and after a long ball was partially cleared by Mark Beevers the unmarked former Leicester City winger took aim and fired a shot into the ground which bobbled into the corner of the net. It looked for all the world that Alnwick should have saved it, but he perhaps was unsighted. It’s Dyer’s 4th goal against Bolton since our relegation to the Championship in 2012 but while said goals are usually spectacular, this one was easily preventable.
The half petered out after the goal with Wanderers wholly incapable of threatening Burton, who of course decided to shut up shop after getting their noses in front. The only event of note was a Groundhog Day moment when Madine decided to line up a 30-yard free-kick and smashed it into the wall, only for the ball to fall back to him before he was taken out and another foul was given. The fact that Madine had been fouled in exactly the same spot as before (the referee wasn’t even required to re-use the vanishing spray) and that the free-kick was again ploughed into the wall at least provided some comic relief to an otherwise depressing half of football.
Wanderers’ best chance of getting back into the match came in the early minutes of the second-half when Wheater headed against the crossbar and the ball bounced down onto the line. While some players appealed that the header was in, Bywater got to his feet to make a fantastic scrambling save to deny Darren Pratley from nodding in the equaliser. At this point one felt it just wouldn’t happen for Wanderers. Burton had reasonable half-chances to double their lead, only to be denied by excellent covering headers from Darby, who had impressed on his return to the team. Phil Parkinson sought to add some attacking impetus to the team by replacing the walking wounded Pratley with Filipe Morais. However, the feeling that Bolton couldn’t buy a goal regardless of any changes was compounded by Ameobi’s effort after an interchange with Madine that flew just wide. It was a great strike that was hit with real venom and looked for all the world that it was going in. When that shot missed, all hope was lost.
Parky went even more on the offensive , bringing on Noone for Darby and the winger set-up Ameobi for another shot that was hit straight at Bywater. With Wanderers pushing forward for an equaliser, space was left at the back for Sordell to use his pace to elude Beevers, only to blast his shot high into the side netting. The frontman had another shot minutes later saved by Alnwick but by this point Burton were using every dirty trick in the book to kill the game. Wanderers got no protection from the referee who not only missed Jake Buxton’s numerous assault’s on Madine but also prevented a promising Bolton breakaway to cater to Luke Murphy’s “head injury”, something he miraculously recovered from the moment the whistle blew. It was lesson in game management that Parky could do with learning from Nigel Clough.
Wanderers had a couple of half-chances before the final whistle including Vela firing over after a chest down from Buckley, but their frustration was summed up by Antonee Robinson, who had had a decent game, running the ball out of play in stoppage time under no pressure whilst Bolton were camped in the Burton half. The full-time whistle was met with chorus of boos, drowning out the elation of the circa 200 Burton fans who had made the trip (a very poor showing for such a big game). It was a damning defeat in a match Wanderers couldn’t really afford to lose. Where do we go from here?