LLOYD Isgrove missed a heartbreaking penalty as the Wanderers lost in a penalty shootout to Tranmere Rovers in the Papa Johns Cup.
The winger was sidelined for nearly a year after rupturing his hamstring twice, but after coming on as a second-half substitute and inspiring the Whites to recover from a two-goal deficit, he missed the crucial penalty.
Tranmere advanced with two goals from Kieron Morris and Paul Lewis, while Bolton lost in the first 45 minutes.
But after Kieran Sadler put them back in the game, newcomer Conor Carty managed to save the penalty shootout with a superb shot in injury time.
With a few players out of the building already in international service, Evatt was always bound to make changes. But with the likes of Ricardo Santos, Gethin Jones, MJ Williams, Kyle Dempsey and George Thomason completely left out of the reckoning, the Bolton boss’s 10 changes have always been a bold move.
Liverpool’s loaned Owen Beck made his debut on the left. He showed some elegant touches early on and appeared to be a nimble runner in possession but struggled to make any real impact on the game as a whole as the team performed shockingly poorly overall.
Tranmere’s 4-4-2 gave Morris and Rhys Hughes ample space to exploit both sides of Bolton’s three defences. And they did it a lot.
In comparison, Wanderers should have had an extra midfield player. But despite having three capable midfield players – Josh Sheehan, Aaron Morley and Sadlier – none of them managed to get the ball with anything like the hesitation the game required.
Tranmere had already fired a few warning shots through the boughs by the time Morris opened the scoring in the 21st minute.
Sheehan tested goalkeeper Matthews Hewlett with a free kick, but most of the early chances fell to the hosts as Hughes fired one shot from distance and George Johnston had to make a final challenge to block Ethan Bristow’s attempt.
Morris was a constant problem for the Whites from the very first minute. But even he seemed surprised by the simplicity of his first goal since February.
Declan John – an unusual right-back – has given up 70 yards from his line. Two undisputed passes later, Morris managed to slip through midfield and hit the daisy-cutter in the bottom corner after a desperate Joel Dixon touchdown.
Elliot Nevitt nearly doubled the lead within a minute, as his goal was missed by the night’s captain Johnston.
Avolayan provided little urgency with a volley from the edge of the penalty area, which Hoelt defeated, but it proved only a short flutter of encouragement once Tranmere celebrated a second.
The Wanderers were left watching when Chris found Merry Lewis 10 yards from goal with time and space to put his shot past Dixon in the bottom corner.
It’s fair to say Bolton’s second-half performance improved. It is also accurate to say that there is not much room for deterioration.
Beck created an early opportunity for himself, defeating Dacres-Cogley and making his way into the penalty area, but his enthusiasm overcame him with a misguided shot.
Budvarsson also made good contact with Sadler’s header but saw the ball slip painfully.
Bolton looked more dangerous on the offense but still looked disorganized defensively and gave Tranmere chances to kill a dead stone. Hughes fired straight at the post, Arthur Lomax’s free-kick at the far post bounced off Will Emson and Nevitt fired a shot over the bar from close range.
Wanderers called up Isgrove in their first game since last November, and suddenly it looked like they could be back in the game again.
Podvarsson and Emson stopped shots on the line in a frantic exchange from a corner. A few moments later, Sadlier turned around to send a ball into the roof of the net, and finally made the contest of the night.
Tranmere had a chance for the third goal – Lomax shaved the post with a low shot and Emson stopped Jake Burton with the last save. Ken Hemmings also gained freedom, failing to beat Dixon with a corner effort.
Evatt threw on another striker, giving B-team forward Karti his first taste of football, but the chances looked like they had dried up completely as the fourth official lit up four minutes of overtime.
Then, almost out of nowhere, Carte grabbed his moment, with the ball landing perfectly on the edge of the penalty area before it crossed Hewelt.
The penalty shootout was almost perfect – Isgrove was the only unlucky man in the first team to come back out of the 10 shots taken by both sides.
Morley, Avolayan, Sadlier and Sheehan scored for the white shirt in the penalty shootout but Tranmere’s five successes earned them an extra point that night.