Saturday saw Ian Evatt’s Bolton Wanderers travel to face former manager Keith Hill’s Tranmere Rovers. Prior to the game, an army of club volunteers and staff cleared a snowy Prenton Park as the two North-West Rivals met each other for the second time in 6 weeks. In a fixture that carries a lot of history, it would not be Bolton’s day on the Wirral.
Instead it would prove to be another frustrating afternoon for Bolton as Hill would once again get the better of his old club. Hill’s victory has put his new club within two points of the play-offs whilst Bolton continue to slip away in the race for promotion and find themselves in 17th following Tranmere’s 2-1 win.
The pre-match discussions from the Bolton perspective were dominated by the need to start well. This season they have an unhelpful habit of conceding before finding their own rhythm. True to form, they got off to the worst possible start as Danny Lloyd capitalised on a Ryan Delaney mistake to fire Tranmere into an early lead with just 4 minutes on the clock. Lloyd’s low left foot strike from just inside the Wanderers penalty area comfortably beat a stricken Matt Gilks’ inside his right post.
Following the early setback, Bolton began to grow into the game although their hosts were always a threat. Both sides struggled to create any meaningful chances. For Bolton, there were struggles in getting their main goal threat, Irishman Eoin Doyle, into the game. The forward’s best effort coming after good work from Zack Elbouzedi down the left hand side, unfortunately Doyle could only steer his effort over the bar.
At the start of the second half, Ian Evatt introduced Arthur Gnahoua to inject some life into the Wanderers attack. Gnahoua’s introduction, as it had done in previous weeks, saw Bolton look to put themselves on the front foot in the game. Unfortunately for Bolton, it only took a few moments for disaster to strike once again. Bolton defender Ryan Delaney was adjudged by referee Neil Hair to have brought down former-Wanderer Liam Feeney in the penalty area following a collision between the pair. With Feeney getting his effort away and with the ball saved, it seemed a harsh decision and after a short delay for Delaney to receive treatment for a head injury sustained in the collision, James Vaughan fired Tranmere into what would be an unassailable 2 goal lead.
As they have done so often this season, Bolton responded well to this setback and became the dominant force in the game. It would take Bolton 10 minutes to find themselves back in the game as Antoni Sarcevic made a trademark run beyond the opposition defence to steer home from close range. Bolton were lifted and the goal was quickly followed by huge chance for Eoin Doyle to fire Wanderers level but he could only find the goalkeeper from short range.
Moments later came potentially the critical point in the game as Antoni Sarcevic turned through on goal and appeared to be brought down by Tranmere defender Emmanuel Monthe, who had received a first half booking, only for the referee to wave the game on. The Bolton technical area was incensed at the decision but Monthe survived.
Bolton continued to press and second-half substitute Arthur Gnahoua would have two chances to bring Wanderers level. His second opportunity was a golden chance to fire home with the Tranmere goal bearing down on him but Gnahoua could only find the side netting of the near post. It really felt as though the chance to get something from the game had slipped Wanderers by.
That disappointment would be compounded shortly after as Bolton’s Ryan Delaney capped off his disappointing display by picking up a second yellow card for an errant arm whilst competing for the call in the air with Tranmere forward James Vaughan.
Unfortunately for Bolton, the loss of Delaney saw them lose their momentum and Tranmere were able to take control of the game and see out a 4th win in 5 meetings against their North West rivals.
At the end of the game, frustrations in the Wanderers camp were evident as manager Ian Evatt was shown a red card after speaking with referee Neil Hair. Evatt was clearly unhappy with the conduct of Hair and stated afterwards that he intends to file a report against the officiating team for their performance and their handling of the Bolton staff throughout the fixture.