Bolton’s FA Cup campaign ended with a 2-1 defeat at the Macron to Huddersfield Town. Two second half goals in the space of two minutes were enough to send the Terriers through, despite Wanderers pulling one back through Derik Osede. There was some debate around the second Huddersfield goal, with Abdelhamid Sabiri leaving David Wheater with stud marks in his leg after a challenge in the build-up, but the goal stood and gave Town victory.
Phil Parkinson made seven changes to the side that started against Hull City. Many of them were enforced due to Karl Henry and Darren Pratley’s injuries, together with Josh Cullen and Reece Burke being recalled by West Ham. Mark Howard replaced the rested Ben Alnwick with Wheater, Derik, Filipe Morais, Adam Le Fondre and Aaron Wilbraham completing the line-up. While changes were expected, it was odd to see Parky use his first-choice defence rather than give the likes of Dorian Dervite and Stephen Darby a run. Thankfully the gamble wasn’t costly with the backline suffering no injures, despite Sabiri’s best efforts.
The first half was a non-event with the Premier League team having much of the ball but creating very little. It wasn’t until the last ten minutes of the half that there was any action to speak of as Jonathan Hogg fired over the bar after being found by Laurent Depoitre on the edge of the box. However, the best, and only clear-cut, chance of the half fell to Wanderers and Wilbraham should have scored. Morais jinked past Tommy Smith to chip in a delightful cross to the 39-year-old whose free header was nearer the corner flag than the goal.
There were no changes for either side at half-time, though Huddersfield were forced to remove Collin Quaner for former Wanderers transfer target, Rajiv Van La Parra. The Dutch winger was supposedly all but signed for Bolton, on loan under Neil Lennon, before the deal had to be cancelled due to our financial struggles at the time. He set about immediately showing the fans what they had missed out on, forcing a save out of Howard from distance. There followed a long succession of corners and at what must have been at least the sixth attempt, Town found a goal. The ball was whipped in by Sabiri to the near post and not dealt with by the Bolton defence. Van La Parra flicked it goalward with the outside of his boot and it crept in for 1-0.
Though one felt cautiously optimistic that Bolton could still impose themselves on the game, especially given how average their opposition had been up until their goal, any hope of reaching the next round disappeared almost immediately. Danny Williams received the ball 30 yards from goal after Wheater and Sabiri clashed, with everyone in the ground expecting referee Roger East to award a free-kick to the Wanderers. The ref didn’t and the American took aim with his shot ricocheting off Mark Beevers to wrongfoot Howard, rolling into the net. At this point the more lively of the Huddersfield contingent began to attempt to rile the Wanderers fans, only for the majority of the morons to be thrown out, much to the delight of the home supporters.
This wasn’t the only thing they would enjoy as Wanderers got themselves back into contention some 10 minutes later. Morais whipped in an enticing cross from a corner that found Derik unmarked to send his diving header into the net at the back post. It looked like a well-worked training move and it was pleasing to see the Spaniard score after what must have been a tough time out of the team. He had a chance to equalise moments later as he latched onto another Morais cross, but on this occasion his effort was deflected over.
Frankly, nobody of a Bolton persuasion really wanted a replay given our mounting injury list and survival aspirations, yet the players kept rallying to get an equaliser. As is often the case, when we attacked we left ourselves open to the counter and it took a great challenge from Wheater on Sabiri and a good save from Howard to deny Huddersfield through Van La Parra. One notable moment of the closing stages was a Bolton debut for young striker Connor Hall who, based on his performances in the U23s of late, has been the subject of much interest from Wanderers fans. Though the young man had little impact in the last 10 minutes of the game, his contribution was still more telling than the ageing Wilbraham who frankly should have retired the moment he missed that header and ultimately cost us a place in the Fourth Round.
It wasn’t to be for Wanderers as the game finished 2-1 but it was pleasing to see us match a Premier League team without some key players, a positive sign moving forward. We must set our sights on Brentford now and hopefully continue our winning run given we have no more distractions. If we can play like this without Madine, Henry or Pratley, things look promising. COYWM