WANDERERS have been a hard team to read in 2022, and that proved the case right the way up to the last.
Dreadful for 45 minutes, it looked like being a long old night for Ian Evatt and the 1,200 travelling supporters as Ben House caught the Bolton defence napping at a free kick to open the scoring.
A different Bolton emerged after half time. Not their best selves, but enough for Eoin Toal’s equaliser to feel deserved.
The Northern Irishman’s near-post flick from a corner was his first for the club, and capped off another good personal performance.
Thereafter, Bolton should have claimed all three points. Joe Walsh was sent off for two bookable offences inside four minutes but the Whites just could not find the breakthrough.
Wanderers made three changes from the side that drew 0-0 with Derby County, including a forst league start of the season for Kieran Sadlier at left wing-back.
Kyle Dempsey and MJ Williams also came into the side at the expense of Kieran Lee, Jack Iredale and Josh Sheehan.
In the early stages Wanderers were given plenty of room to play in their own half, James Trafford seeing as much of the ball as anyone as Evatt’s side tried to suss out where they had space to play.
Things slid into place with a great cross-field ball from Aaron Morley to find Sadlier on the left touchline. He then beat his man and laid a pass off for Dempsey, whose curling shot bounced just past Carl Rushworth’s left-hand post.
Sadly, that is as good as it got for Bolton in the first half as they struggled to build another meaningful attack in what was their most passive 45 minutes since the defeat at Forest Green.
That is not to say Lincoln were much better. But they did have the luxury of a goal, supplied by Ben House when Danny Mandriou caught Bolton’s defenders napping with a quick free kick and he was able to divert it past the on-rushing Trafford into the net.
After that, the Imps had a persistent threat from long throws catapulted in from either touchline, one of which was headed narrowly wide by defender Joe Walsh.
James Trafford never looked entirely comfortable and were there a little more conviction in the home attack, the Whites might have had a bigger mountain to climb after the break.
Lincoln were happy to let Wanderers have the ball in their own half – and they had plenty of possession, 73 per cent in fact by the break. But they were often too slow to move it through midfield and when they did go direct – Will Aimson seeming particularly fond of that approach – Dion Charles and Dapo Afolayan were unable to retain possession.
When Wanderers did push into midfield, the Imps were a different prospect. Their press was aggressive… Sometimes too aggressive.
Sadlier was given a green light to attack his defender, Regan Poole, after he was given a yellow card for clattering into George Johnston. Evatt and his bench called for a red at the time – and referee Geoff Eltringham must certainly have considered stronger action – but Poole survived the rest of the half in relatively comfortable fashion.
Fans had been calling for Sadlier to start, given the number of eye-catching cameos he had made from the bench this season. He emerged for the second half, however, with a lot to prove.
Evatt made no changes at the break but will surely have demanded more. He got the response he was looking for, and with Williams and Dempsey snapping into early challenges the Whites suddenly started to build some momentum.
A couple of Morley’s free kicks skimmed over heads and kept the home side pinned back and then, just before the hour mark, a near post corner was turned in by Toal to spark the return of a familiar chant among the travelling fans.
But that was just the start of the fun and games. Lincoln’s aggression began to backfire and after Walsh had tangled with Morley and Toal to earn himself a yellow card, he then saw red four minutes later after pulling back Charles.
Ref Eltringham could barely keep a lid on things at one stage, with another flashpoint developing in front of the technical areas after Jack Diamond steamed into Conor Bradley.
Members of both benches waded into the skirmish, with Evatt racing down the touchline to pull Bradley – on a yellow for a foul on Lasse Sorensen – away from the problems.
Wanderers went all-in as Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Amadou Bakayoko and Elias Kachunga were called up from the bench. The hectic change served to slow down their momentum and other than a header deflected wide from Toal, the attacking football had again slowed to a crawl as the clock high on the Stacey West Stand ticked down to the last few minutes of normal time.
Lincoln camped deep to protect the point. Bakayoko bundled the ball wide from close range after Bradley had picked him out with a good ball in a crowded penalty box, then Morley had a stinging effort charged down.
Six minutes of added time seemed frugal. And with every claim of the ball keeper Carl Rushworth made sure he ate up as much as he could.
Wanderers have offered so many late goals in 2022. Was one more too much to ask? On this occasion, yes.