Bolton Wanderers 1-2 Exeter City

  • May 01, 2021 | By Chris Mann
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Bolton's search for promotion will go down to the final day after they were beaten 2-1 by Exeter City at the University of Bolton Stadium.

Wanderers, who needed a win to guarantee themselves a place in League One next season with a game to play, went ahead inside 15 minutes as Gethin Jones slotted in the opening goal.

The Trotters failed to build on that early advantage, however, and were pegged back when Randell Williams drilled in an equaliser four minutes after the break, before Pierce Sweeney headed home a winner in the sixth minute of stoppage time at the end of the game.

Ian Evatt made two changes to the team that started at Morecambe as Declan John and captain Antoni Sarcevic returned in place of George Thomason and the unfortunate Ben Jackson, whose goal proved to be the winner last time out.

Several hundred supporters had made their way to the University of Bolton Stadium in the hours leading up to kick-off, greeting each player individually as they made their way from the Bolton Whites Hotel car park to the south-westerly entrance of the ground.

With the action underway, it was the hosts who fashioned out the first opportunity as Sarcevic spread the play out wide to John. After advancing into the final third, his low cross fizzed across the face of goal with nobody alert to provide the telling touch.

Exeter's first sight of goal arrived moments later as Matt Jay received possession on the edge of the area, cut inside Alex Baptiste and forced Matt Gilks into a smart save at his near post.

Eoin Doyle miscued from close range as he connected with a cross from Lloyd Isgrove, with the Irishman somewhat relieved to see an offside flag raised against him, shortly before Sarcevic saw a goalbound strike blocked after he was teed up by Oladapo Afolayan.

Wanderers continued to push forward in search of the opening goal as Baptiste saw a shot deflect behind, before the ball finally found a way into the net as the home side took the lead on the quarter-hour.

Doyle capitalised on some poor defending to break clear in the Exeter box but seemingly had little available to him as the angle narrowed. Sarcevic burst forward to provide support, before laying the ball off for Jones to slot into the bottom corner.

Supporters could be heard cheering and setting off pyrotechnics outside the stadium as the live table not only showed Bolton as being promoted, but also level on points with table-topping Cheltenham Town.

With play-off football perhaps beginning to slip away from them, the Grecians began to show their frustration ad Josh Key went into the book for a challenge on Afolayan, while Alex Hartridge was lucky to remain on the field after hauling Isgrove to the ground as he looked set to break into the box and go one-on-one with goalkeeper Jokull Andresson.

Andresson flew to his left to parry the resulting free-kick from John behind for a corner, from which Ricardo Santos headed narrowly over the top after getting the better of his marker.

1-0 is always a delicate scoreline in football and Jake Taylor reminded Wanderers of that on 31 minutes, bringing Gilks into action, moments before Jay struck a free-kick into a wall after Baptiste had committed a foul just outside the box.

John fired into the side netting and Taylor dragged a shot wide as both sides had further sights of goal with 10 minutes of the half to play, while Sweeney was left unimpressed with referee Anthony Backhouse after volleying over the bar whilst under pressure.

Ryan Bowman struck over the top inside four added minute for stoppages, as Wanderers took their one-goal advantage into the half-time break, but their lead was to be wiped out within four minutes of the restart.

Wanderers had been given a warning when Jay almost flicked in an equaliser from the first attack of the half, but Exeter did get back on level terms on 49 minutes as Williams was afforded too much time on the edge of the box and he responded by drilling low through a ruck of bodies to find the bottom corner for 1-1.

Bolton twice saw opportunities come and go as the clock ticked towards the hour, with Doyle twice heading wide following pin-point crosses from Isgrove.

Doyle had another two attempts, both of which were seemingly destined for goal, blocked by some desperate Exeter defending, before Sweeney then put his body on the line to keep the scores level by charging down a goalbound attempt from Afolayan.

A double substitution saw George Thomason and Arthur Gnahoua introduced in place of Sarcevic and Isgrove on 62 minutes, but the changes failed to have the impact Evatt would have desired as the hosts' attacking threat almost completely disappeared.

Nathan Delfouneso was thrown into the action with 16 minutes to play after Kieran Lee was withdrawn with a calf injury, but it was Exeter who continued to look the more likely winners.

Jay curled a free-kick inches over the crossbar with 10 minutes remaining, while Jones ensured the scores remained level by sliding in to deny Williams his second of the afternoon shortly thereafter.

Doyle couldn't quite stretch enough to tap in a low cross from John with two minutes of normal time to go, while substitute Ben Seymour headed into the side netting at the other end as the board for five minutes of added time went up.

Gnahoua fired high and wide with what many expected to be the final chance of the game, but Exeter were given one final opportunity in the closing moments as Delfouneso conceded a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area.

With Sparkes standing over the set-play, all eyes were on visiting goalkeeper Andresson as he made a move into the box. But it was Sweeney who ghosted in at the far post to head home a winning goal that kept alive the Grecians hopes of a place in the play-offs, whilst also piling the pressure on Bolton going into the final day.

Wanderers remain in the automatic promotion places - a point behind Cambridge United and three adrift of Cheltenham Town, both of whom have far superior goal differences - while Morecambe will claim the final spot in the top-three should they better the Trotters' result next weekend.

The Shrimps host Bradford City at the Mazuma Stadium but destiny remains in the hands of Bolton, who will secure a place in League One next season with victory at Crawley Town.

Bolton Wanderers: Gilks, John, Baptiste, Santos, Jones, Lee (Delfouneso 74), Williams, Afolayan (Miller 85), Sarcevic (Thomason 62), Isgrove (Gnahoua 62), Doyle
Subs Not Used: Jensen, Tutte, Jackson
Booked: Baptiste, Williams
Goals: Jones 15

Exeter City: Andresson, Kay (Fisher 86), Sweeney, Hartridge, Page (Sparkes 63), Williams (Caprice 86), Taylor (Seymour 79), Collins, Willmott (Atangana 63), Bowman, Jay
Subs Not Used: Maxted, McArdle
Booked: Key, Hartridge, Willmott, Taylor, Sparkes
Goals: Williams 49, Sweeney 90+6

Referee: Anthony Backhouse

Sky Bet League One Standings

Pos Team Pld Pts
2 Peterborough United 4 9
3 Portsmouth 4 8
4 Bolton Wanderers 4 8
5 Exeter City 4 7
6 Charlton Athletic 4 7
View Full Standings >>


Who is Bolton's 2021/22 Player of the Year?
32.58% Oladapo Afolayan
30.96% Gethin Jones
21.72% Ricardo Almeida Santos
5.51% Declan John
4.05% Kieran Lee
3.08% MJ Williams
1.78% Joel Dixon
0.32% George Johnston