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Match Report: Scunthorpe United 1-0 Bolton Wanderers

Wanderers' impressive away form is halted but the promotion party looks ever closer

Bolton v Everton U23 - EFL Checkatrade Trophy
Conor Wilkinson deputised for Gary Madine and once again failed to take his chance
Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Bolton Wanderers' superb run of five consecutive away victories was always going to come to an end at some point, and did so in disappointing fashion at fellow promotion chasers Scunthorpe United.

As it happens it wasn't too tough a result to take as - aside from Sheffield United securing promotion and all but winning the title by coming from behind to win at Northampton Town - our nearest challengers Fleetwood Town also tasted defeat at Oldham Athletic.

This also sets up the scenario of Bolton being most likely to secure promotion back to The Championship in front of their own fans against Bury next Tuesday night - which would only be apt after the pain Wanderers fans have been through in the last few years.

Wanderers went into Saturday's clash with Scunthorpe having not tasted defeat since losing at Sheffield in late February, but faced a dilemma with the injury-enforced absence of talisman striker Gary Madine. We all know about Madine's struggles with goalscoring but the stats tell us that we are much worse off without the big striker. Indeed, in seven league games without him Bolton have averaged just 0.57 points per game as opposed to averaging 2.18 points per game with him in the side.

Phil Parkinson bizarrely elected to hand a start to Conor Wilkinson in the absence of Madine, in the only change to the side that snatched a late win at Southend in midweek.

Scunthorpe started much the brighter and enjoying plenty of early possession. They took advantage of that by taking the lead on 11 minutes after referee David Webb - who, unsurprisingly for this league, was useless - awarded the hosts a free-kick when it looked like the decision should have gone Bolton's way. Josh Morris knocked a cross into the far post and David Mirfin got up highest to head home.

The hosts continued to apply the pressure and went close to doubling their advantage but Dorian Dervite was on hand to clear the ball from the lurking Paddy Madden.

Wanderers began to edge their way into the game, with the only real threat coming from March's player of the month Filipe Morais. The winger turned wing-back was getting good crosses into the box that had the Scunthorpe defence increasingly struggling. The closest Bolton came to a first-half equaliser saw a Morais corner only cleared as far as Dean Moxey, who hit a half-volley narrowly wide of the top corner.

As half-time loomed Wanderers were handed a massive chance to get back into the game. Good work by Adam Le Fondre led to a great opportunity for Wilkinson, but he somehow skied it well over the bar from just eight yards out.

Scunthorpe brought Neal Bishop on for Matt Crooks at the break, and the substitute had an immediate chance to double the lead but shot tamely at Mark Howard when he should really have scored. Bishop came even closer as his low, slightly scuffed, drive from 25 yards out deflected off the dangling leg of David Wheater and bounced off the outside of the post.

The dreadful Wilkinson was replaced by Max Clayton, and the forward came painfully close to an equaliser only to be denied by a superb save by Scunthorpe goalkeeper Joe Anyon. Morais' cross into the near post was headed towards the bottom corner by Clayton and the keeper somehow got down low to his left and turned the ball behind for a corner.

James Henry was also introduced in place of Darren Pratley, and the winger also went close with a drive that was well turned away by the impressive Anyon and then did his usual routine of wild shots over the bar.

At their own end Wanderers also had their own goalkeeper to thank as Howard pulled off a superb diving save to prevent the lively Morris' low left-footed shot nestling into the far corner.

Bolton continued to push for an equaliser but increasingly struggled to create chances as the Scunthorpe defence stood firm.

It was a difficult defeat to take for Bolton, but there's solace to take from the fact that on another day we could have scored three or four. Anyon was in inspired form in the Scunthorpe goal and our finishing wasn't at its best, but the good news is that by tasting defeat to Scunthorpe we allow them to keep up the pace on Bradford (who no-one wants to get promoted).

One big question mark over this defeat has to be the inclusion of Conor Wilkinson. Wilkinson has started only twice for Bolton this season - at Sheffield United and Scunthorpe - and has rarely even been in the match squad in recent weeks. So you have to question why Parkinson has felt obliged to choose the striker in these big games, and remain wholly unsurprised when it doesn't work and he doesn't score. This may also mark the end for Wilkinson's Bolton career, given that he has now played 14 games for the club and has still failed to score a single goal.

On the positive side, Wanderers remain seven points clear of Fleetwood and Bradford City with four games remaining. That means a win and a draw from the next two games at Oldham and then Bury at home will be enough to secure promotion at the first time of asking. And if we don't manage that, then there's still a trip to Port Vale and the final match of the season at home to Peterborough United to seal our return to The Championship.