Bolton 1 Portsmouth 1: Neil Allen's verdict - See you again next year in League One as honourable draw destroys both teams' fading play-off hopes

And so, a draw failed to advance either side’s play-off aspirations, not that they truly ever represented a realistic target.

Tuesday, 5th April 2022, 10:20 pm
Aiden O'Brien runs at the Bolton defence in the first half of the League One clash. Picture: Philip Bryan/ProSportsImages
Aiden O'Brien runs at the Bolton defence in the first half of the League One clash. Picture: Philip Bryan/ProSportsImages

In truth, such ambition was beyond both clubs heading into tonight’s the rain-drenched University of Bolton encounter.

Before the match it was 10th against 11th, with Pompey 11 points adrift of sixth place, while Bolton were 12.

A case of honours shared has now all but vanquished hopes of breaking into the top six for both former Premier League stalwarts.

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The 1-1 draw, though, will be viewed with greater frustration by Danny Cowley’s men, who looked comfortable and appeared destined to claim the victory.

When Aiden O’Brien converted Marcus Harness’ pull back from the byline on 50 minutes, it handed the visitors a lead to cap some enterprising play on the night.

Suddenly, after a 17-day absence of League One football, the Blues were contemplating victory – and potentially remaining in that congested play-off hunt.

Yet misfortune was to befall them 14 minutes from time in the form of Hayden Carter accidentally clipping the heels of substitute Elias Kachunga.

The penalty handed ex-target Kieran Sadlier the chance to level from the penalty spot, albeit very much against the run of play.

Until that point, Sean Raggett had marshalled a Blues back four superbly, ensuring they had a firm grasp of the match to see out a win.

Instead Cowley’s troops couldn’t find another goal to regain their advantage and the game petered out into a result which didn’t do either club much good.

It leaves Pompey 12 points off the play-offs with two matches in hand – sadly far too much to do this season.

In the process it books both sides two opportunities to face each other next term in League One, a backdrop neither will want to stick around in for much longer.

The last time the Blues played was on March 19 for a goalless draw against Wycombe at Fratton Park – and for the visit to Bolton there were three changes.

Of that Chairboys line-up, out went Tyler Walker, Mahlon Romeo and Ryan Tunnicliffe, who all dropped to the bench.

In their place were Joe Morrell, Michael Jacobs and Aiden O’Brien, with the Blues operating with a flat back four

Making a return to the squad was Shaun Williams, having recovered from fracturing his back against Charlton in January.

However, there was no place among the substitutes for Jay Mingi, Harry Jewitt-White and Liam Vincent.

Meanwhile, Reeco Hackett and Kieron Freeman remain sidelined for the season through injury.

Bolton kicked the game off and, within two minutes, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson nearly successfully closed down Gavin Bazunu in his six-yard box.

The keeper had the ball at his feet and managed to clear it in the nick of time before Bodvarsson arrived, albeit hurriedly and screwing his kick out of play.

There was a scare for the visitors on 10 minutes when Dapo Afolayan made his way down the right and his dangerous cross was firstly blocked by Sean Raggett, then Louis Thompson cleared.

Pompey themselves were beginning to knit some neat football together and one good build-up saw Jacobs’ shot from the edge of the box blocked.

On 19 minutes, Thompson won a foul after getting to the ball a fraction of a second before Afolayan, with Jacobs delivering it from the right.

That was met with a Raggett header from the angle which James Trafford comfortably gathered, nonetheless it was an attempt on target.

The Blues then won the game’s first corner, taken by Jacobs down the right, met with an overhead kick from George Hirst which flew comfortably wide.

Then a lovely move emanating from Bazunu’s pass to Hayden Carter resulted in Hirst pulling it back from the byline, just agonisingly short of Jacobs.

Then on the half-hour mark, Harness created space for himself outside the box, yet his right-footed attempt was dragged well wide of the far post.

Bazunu then rescued Pompey with a stunning low stop to deny Afolayan’s goal-bound shot, while Dion Charles’ follow-up at the far post flashed harmlessly across the box.

On 39 minutes, Kyle Dempsey collected the game’s first booking following a late challenge on Harness which incensed Morrell, who then pushed the midfielder.

With the scoreline goalless at the break, Bolton made one change for the second half, with Ricardo Santos replaced by Will Aimson.

On 48 minutes, George Johnston collected a booking after felling Hirst as the striker charged past him.

The deadlock was broken on 50 minutes, following excellent work from Harness.

The winger twisted and turned down the right to find a way to the byline and pull back a cross which O’Brien slotted home with a right-footed finish.

It was a fourth for the Blues from the January arrival, although he owed it to Harness’ trickery for laying it on a plate for the ex-Sunderland man.

Moments later, Declan John went through the back of the goal scorer, catching him painfully, and although a foul was awarded, O’Brien was fuming with the challenge.

The home fans weren’t happy when the referee declined to award a penalty following Carter’s challenge on Bodvarsson – and then the Blues broke to nearly score themselves.

Jacobs slipped in Hirst to his left, who cut inside and drove a low right-footed shot which Trafford collected comfortably diving to his left.

In the 65th minute, Bolton made their second substitution, with Elias Kachunga replacing Afolayan, who appeared to have taken a knock anyway.

The industry for Carter almost carved out a second for the Blues when he cut inside from the right and across the area.

His shot was blocked and fell to Jacobs, who looked set to place the ball into the net, only for Johnston to bravely throw himself in front of the shot and concede a corner.

The hosts made their third and final substitution on 70 minutes, with MJ Williams coming on for Dempsey.

However, it was 1-1 after 76 minutes following an unfortunate moment for Carter.

The young defender appeared to accidentally clip the heels of substitute Kachunga as he gave chase, yet it was a penalty all day long.

Sadier stepped up for the honours, putting it to the left of Bazunu to draw the sides level.

In the 82nd minute, Cowley made a double change, with Curtis and Williams entering for Thompson and Jacobs.

With five minutes remaining, Taylor was introduced for Hirst and very nearly got on the end of a Morrell cross from the right ahead of keeper Trafford.

Yet there was no late change to the scoreline as it ended all square. See you again in League One next season.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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