Bolton’s first match at the newly-named University of Bolton Stadium ended with disappointment and a collective feeling of what might have been. Two goals in the space of four second-half minutes from Will Buckley and Josh Magennis gave Bolton a 2-0 lead with half-an-hour to go but a controversial goal from Andreas Weimann gave the visitors hope before Jamie Paterson’s 81st minute leveller ensured the points were shared.
Wanderers were forced into making only one change from their opening day victory away at West Bromwich Albion with the hip injury Sammy Ameobi sustained at the Hawthorns ruling him out resulting in Craig Noone deputising on the right. The visitors lined-up without their talismanic marauding full-back Joe Bryan after his move to Fulham but also neglected to fill the gap left by his absence with former Wanderers loan-target Jay Dasilva, recently arriving from Chelsea, giving the shirt to academy graduate Liam Kelly instead.
The early exchanges saw the visitors have the lion’s share of possession with the youngster Kelly epitomizing their dominance by vacating his full-back role to position himself as a left-winger without any fear of being caught on the break. Former Preston midfielder Josh Brownhill was the conductor of nearly all of Bristol City’s play and had the first shot in anger when he fired wide from 25 yards on 14 minutes. The main excitement from the fan’s perspective was the utterly atrocious performance of the referee which set the tone for the rest of the game. Mr Brooks effectively marked Magennis out of the game throughout the first-half by calling a foul against him almost every time he challenged for a header and also presented the visitors with two great opportunities from free-kicks where there was no foul to be seen.
The second of these free-kicks brought the best chance of the game up to this point. Niclas Eliasson, the young Swedish winger, had looked lively throughout yet when given the chance to deliver from either a corner or a free-kick he had disappointed. On this occasion however, his poor delivery almost bore fruit as he whipped a cross in from the right. Ben Alnwick began to scramble across his goal line, merely spectating as the ball looped onto the post before being cleared to safety. It would have been a goal to sum up a match that was lacking in quality. Wanderers’ only real half-chance in this disappointing first period came when they broke away after a tackle on Weimann had left the Austrian on the floor looking for a foul. A clever pass by new Polish full-back Pawel Olkowski was flicked on by Magennis and Buckley was in-behind, one-on-one. Unfortunately, Magennis’ intervention meant the former Brighton-winger was offside, but I believe that Olkowski’s pass would have found Buckley regardless of a flick thus it was a good chance missed for the Whites.
A drab first-half ended without incident but after the break Bristol City continued to press Wanderers with their passing skill and clever interchanges, all led by the superb Brownhill. As it happened, however, the best through ball of many attempted by the visitors was played by Wanderers’ own Luke Murphy who, through tackling Paterson, fed Weimann whose shot was palmed over expertly by Alnwick. This let-off was almost immediately punished by Wanderers who proceeded to win a corner just minutes later and open the scoring with their first attempt on goal all match.
After some unorthodox goalkeeping from Niki Maenpaa gifted Wanderers a corner, Josh Vela’s delivery was thundered towards goal by David Wheater and flicked by Buckley before being blocked on the line. The stadium erupted, assuming the ball had crossed the line, and once Mr Brooks checked his watch the celebrations could truly begin as he signalled our instincts had been correct and it was a goal. Few in the stadium could claim to see the touch Buckley had got to take the ball over the line but there were no complaints on the pitch when he claimed credit. Regardless, Wanderers led despite showing next to no threat at all up to this point.
It is an old cliché that you must take advantage of moments in games where you have the momentum and credit to Wanderers, they certainly did that here. Just three minutes after the opening goal, Bolton had a second. Craig Noone and Olkwoski’s link-up play had been just about the only impressive thing about Wanderers all game and after the Pole was set free down the right he crossed low, aiming at Vela who was arriving late in the box. The ball missed just about everyone before finding Magennis who swivelled and shot to Maenpaa’s right and into the back of the net for his second in as many games. He thus became only the 6th person in Wanderers’ history to score in both his first two matches for the club.
A quick glance towards the away support showed a group of fans staring in disbelief as their team’s display certainly hadn’t merited them being 2-0 down. They didn’t have long to wait to be given hope, though, as only four minutes later they got a goal back, albeit in controversial fashion. It had been a feature of Bristol City’s play that they played through balls towards Weimann whilst Bolton attempted to play an offside trap. On this occasion I actually think Bolton had played said trap perfectly, yet the assistant didn’t raise his flag and Weimann took his chance well, finding the bottom corner despite Alnwick getting a touch.
Phil Parkinson decided at this stage to try and close out the game by bringing on former Robin, Gary O‘Neil for Murphy but all of Bolton’s attempts to slow the game down through fouls and strong challenges were met with cautions from Mr Brooks, some of which were laughable at best. The pressure from the visitors to find the equaliser was heavy with both Eliasson and substitute Marley Watkins seeing efforts blocked and put wide respectively. Wanderers attempted to use the pace of Yanic Wildschut, a substitute for Buckley, to give themselves an out-ball and relieve some of the pressure but simply couldn’t get enough possession to do so.
It was Parkinson’s third substitution, however, that not only appeared strange but proved costly. His decision to withdraw Noone, probably our best performer, for Adam Le Fondre seemed odd because he had brought on O’Neil as a closer to see the game out. Therefore why add a striker to the mix because Noone’s defensive work on the right flank had been exemplary. It is possible that the former Cardiff winger was fatigued somewhat having been unwell all week, but the decision looked very ill advised almost immediately as Jack Hunt clipped a ball to Paterson after a Wanderers corner and the former Nottingham Forest winger beat Olkowski easily before whipping his shot in off the post for 2-2.
Spurred on by this equaliser, manager Lee Johnson threw on two more strikers in Mo Eisa and Matty Taylor in search of a winner. The ten minutes of normal time following the goal were filled with ludicrous yellow cards dished out by Mr Brooks. When 6 additional minutes were signalled by the fourth official, it was panic stations for both teams. Le Fondre dragged a first-time shot on the turn wide after Magennis’ knock-down but the best chance came right at the death when substitute Taylor out-muscled Beevers after a long-ball over the top. Taylor squared the ball to Eisa but, thankfully, Olkowski did just enough to put the new signing from Cheltenham off and he poked the ball inches wide to ensure the spoils were shared.
Wanderers have 4 points from a possible 6 which is a lot better than we had hoped after last season’s disastrous start. Josh Magennis looks a real threat and I feel the new signing are bedding in well although it is clear that both Luke Murphy and Jason Lowe will need time to forge an effective partnership given their respective rustiness. Some may view this as two points dropped but frankly it is more than Wanderers deserved in a game where they weren’t at their best and were at times played off the park. There is certainly more positivity at the University of Bolton Stadium than negativity and long may it continue.