United entered this quarter final tie as holders of the Lancashire Senior Cup and having already put 4 past this Bolton side on 2 occasions this season, along with the return of key centre half Tom Thorpe (who had his loan spell with Birmingham curtailed in January due to an ankle ligament injury), the reds were in a good position to extend their current winning streak.
However it was Bolton who started the better, adapting the quicker of the two teams to the small and uneven surface. In fact the trotters looked the most likely team to score, Tom Thorpe’s last-ditch tackle preventing a brilliant opportunity for them 16 minutes into the half. Andreas Pereira registered our first shot on target in the 21st minute after a dipping drive nearly deceived the Bolton keeper. West Ham United youth product Rob Hall was looking dangerous for the visitors in a marauding midfield role but the reds defence managed to keep him away from the danger zone.
After having a very convincing penalty appeal turned down, United were belatedly given a a chance from the spot just a few minutes later after Rothwell was felled right on the edge of the box. Rothwell duly converted to give the reds a lead that did not necessarily reflect the balance of play. This sprang United into life as the youngsters started to dominate the midfield, a rasping shot from Wilson that flew agonisingly wide highlighted the distinct improvement in tempo since the goal.
Despite this, Bolton still maintained a threat as Joel Pereira was forced into a wonderful save as he somehow denied a fierce strike from point blank range. Bolton finished the half as they started it, creating 2 further opportunities but they were unable to capitalise both times. United were ahead, but by no means home and dry.
Stern words were on the cards from Warren Joyce to the team and they seemed to have had some effect as United started the 2nd half with the robustness, energy and flair of recent weeks but, as in the first half, Wilson was way too isolated and did not receive the service required. Varela was the United player providing the best glimpses of United play as he proved a more than adequate foil for Saidy Janko, who was operating the right wing position.
The most important thing was that United retained possession as Pereira was left a mere spectator after his first half heroics. Wilson was taken off with 10 minutes to go as a precaution for the Chelsea game on Friday. It had been of night of anonymity from the young forward with regards to the high standards he’d set last week but this was through no fault of his own. Even the best strikers can’t prosper without consistent service.
Bolton levelled with 3 minutes to go after a set piece was woefully defended. This was such a disappointment as the defence had been extremely solid up until this point. The match finished 1-1 and, in hindsight, this was a fair reflection in what was a truly dire game. Penalties beckoned…Reece James ballooned the ball over the bar after 4 exquisite penalties from the 2 sides. Vela took advantage with his penalty and no further spot-kick was missed, sending United crashing out.
The young reds had not lived up to previous performances as the intricate build up play synonymous with these youngsters in recent weeks had not been on show. Whilst a disappointing and premature end to the Senior Cup, it provided a stark reminder that the Reds were far from the finished article at this level despite promising signs.
J. PEREIRA; VARELA, THORPE, McNAIR, JAMES; ROTHWELL ⚽️, PEARSON, EKANGEMENE; JANKO, WILSON (81), A. PEREIRA. subs: ROWLEY (81), GOLLINI, WEIR, RUDGE, HARROP.
Bolton Wanderers (won 5-4 on penalties)
LEE-BARRETT; KELLY, THRELKELD, HOLDING, KELLET; VELA, ROBINSON; LESTER, CLOUGH ⚽️, HALL; ILIEV (59). subs: WOODLAND, CAMPBELL, WALKER (77), WILKINSON (59) (77), BASTOS.