Bolton Wanderers 3-3 Milton Keynes Dons

  • August 07, 2021 | By Chris Mann
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525 days since they were last at the University of Bolton Stadium for a competitive fixture, supporters were treated to a six-goal thriller as Bolton drew with Milton Keynes Dons.

Some 18 months since a goalless draw with Accrington Stanley left a crowd of 12,011 feeling dejected and accepting of relegation to League Two, the atmosphere was much more positive on a typically rainy day in the North West.

16,087 were present to witness a glorious game of football which saw both teams come from behind to lead and even included the age-old stoppage-time equaliser.

Ian Evatt, stepping out in front of home fans as manager for a league game for the first time, handed debuts to George Johnston, Josh Sheehan and Amadou Bakayoko from the off, while last season's loan stars Declan John and Oladapo Afolayan were also included in the starting line-up.

The pre-match buoyancy took a hit midway through the first-half, however, as Johnston was dispossessed on the edge of his own penalty area and Mohamed Eisa's powerful drive found a way past Matt Gilks at his near post.

Wanderers drew level on the half-hour as Sheehan curled a delightful free-kick into the top corner, and the hosts went ahead midway through the second period as Bakayoko took down a cross from John before lashing low into the net to make it 2-1.

That lead was wiped out four minutes later when Scott Twine fired home a free-kick, with Gilks once again beaten at his near post, before Dons substitute Hiram Boateng put through the legs of the Trotters goalkeeper on 83 minutes to surely send the visitors on their way to three points.

Alex Baptiste had different ideas, though, finding himself unmarked inside the six-yard box in the fifth added minute at the end of the game to tap in a cut-back from Elias Kachunga, who had only been on the field a matter of minutes.

Few would have predicted the topsy-turvy nature of the game that would follow as chances were at a premium in the early stages, with the visitors perhaps finding themselves on top as Bolton struggled to retain possession inside their own half.

The first chance arrived with two minutes on the clock as Tennai Watson found space in the box, before sending his effort high over the Wanderers crossbar.

The hosts' first chance came on the 20-minute mark as Bakayoko threaded the ball into the feet of Afolayan, who cut inside from the left before seeing a bending attempt flash inches wide of Laurie Walker's left-hand post.

MK Dons did manage to break the deadlock two minutes later, however, as a mistake from Johnston allowed Eisa the chance to run through on goal, with his low drive beating Gilks at the near post to put the visitors 1-0 to the good.

Bolton were their own worst enemies at this point and were fortunate not to go two-down four minutes later as Eisa pounced on a slip from Baptiste and squared to Troy Parrott, whose goalbound strike was cleared off the line by Johnston.

That would prove pivotal on the half-hour as Wanderers were awarded a free-kick for a foul on Afolayan, from which Sheehan stepped up to bend an outstanding effort into the top corner to make it 1-1.

The home side were suddenly on top and looked certain to go in front on 34 minutes as Sheehan slid in Antoni Sarcevic, only for the captain to go to ground under a challenge and see his penalty appeals turned away by referee Martin Coy.

Eisa curled wide at the other end after Matt O'Riley had seen an initial shot blocked by Johnston, while Sarcevic dragged his strike wide at the other end.

Twine rolled an effort wide for the visitors in the closing stages of the half, as the two teams went in level at the interval.

With no changes to either team as the players emerged for the second period, it was Bolton who came close to taking a lead within moments of the restart as Afolayan found Eoin Doyle on the edge of the box, with the Irish forward pushing forward before curling his placed strike agonisingly past the far post.

Doyle was involved again soon after the hour, spreading the play for Afolayan to cut inside and sting the gloves of Walker.

Moments after Doyle fired over with another attempt, Bolton were ahead as excellent pressing play from John saw him win possession in the final third and cross for Bakayoko. The debutant took the ball down well on his chest, before volleying low through the legs of Walker to put Wanderers ahead for the first time.

The celebrations lasted just four minutes, though, as a foul 25 yards from goal provided the Dons with a free-kick from which Twine picked out the bottom corner to bring the scores level again at 2-2.

Twine saw a chance to put the visitors ahead blocked with 10 minutes remaining, moments before Ethan Robson shot over from the follow-up, but their persistence paid off three minutes later as substitute Boateng swivelled inside the box before finding the net for 3-2.

Kieran Lee, on for goalscorer Sheehan, flicked an attempt wide in the final minute of normal time, and the Trotters must have thought it wasn't going to be their day when Sarcevic saw a goalbound strike charged down in added time.

Bolton weren't to be denied a point on their return to home soil, though, getting the equaliser they deserved in the closing seconds as Kachunga kept the ball alive at the far post and cut it back for Baptiste to slot in from close range.

Home supporters celebrated wildly with emotion that an opening-day fixture has rarely seen previously, but they were sure treated to a spectacle that showed their team will be more than capable of competing in League One over the next eight months.

Evatt's team are back in action this coming Tuesday, when Championship Barnsley are the visitors in the first round of the Carabao Cup.

Bolton Wanderers: Gilks, John, Johnston, Baptiste, Jones, Williams, Sheehan (Lee 85), Afolayan (Kachunga 85), Sarcevic, Bakayoko, Doyle (Isgrove 72)
Subs Not Used: Dixon, Santos, Delfouneso, Thomason
Booked: Williams
Goals: Sheehan 30, Bakayoko 67, Baptiste 90+5

Milton Keynes Dons: Walker, Darling, O'Hora, Jules, Watson (Baldwin 68), O'Riley, Twine (Ilunga 90+2), Robson, Harvie, Parrott (Boateng 81), Eisa
Subs Not Used: Ravizzoli, Brown, Freeman, Bird
Goals: Eisa 22, Twine 71, Boateng 83

Referee: Martin Coy
Attendance: 16,087

Sky Bet League One Standings

Pos Team Pld Pts
1 Accrington Stanley 0 0
2 Barnsley 0 0
3 Bolton Wanderers 0 0
4 Bristol Rovers 0 0
5 Burton Albion 0 0
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