BRIAN POTTER and Jerry St Clair were notable absentees at the opening of Bolton’s new-look Phoenix club last night.
Sadly for comedy aficionados, Max and Paddy were not there either, but while the cast list from Peter Kay’s wonderful Phoenix Nights sitcom may have not taken the stage, all Boltonians can rest assured that their beloved Wanderers are now no longer on the road to nowhere and potential oblivion.
A fixture amid slate-grey Lancashire skies in the newly-named Leasing.Com Trophy may have represented a far-from-glamourous homecoming for Bolton in their first home fixture of the Football Ventures era.
But try telling that to those near 9,000-strong Wanderers followers who headed to the University of Bolton Stadium amid hope and relief that their club is alive and kicking when they were on the verge of liquidation at the start of last week.
The interest was such that the kick-off was delayed for 10 minutes to allow fans to herald two of their own in new manager Keith Hill and assistant David Flitcroft.
Earlier in the day, ex-Barnsley chief Hill spoke gushingly about a new era and a club on the rise again after their brush with death, although there was a last hurrah of sorts last night.
The adolescent-looking Wanderers side who had been thrown to the equivalent of the lions in the opening month of the season were handed the floor for one last time before the seniors took over.
None of Bolton’s nine deadline-day signings were involved last night, but how Bolton’s kids, with an average age of 19 – the youngest side in the club’s history – enjoyed something akin to a leaving party as they avoided being devoured once again.
Securing penalties was no mean achievement against an experienced Bradford City line-up, even if the visitors emerged with a hollow bonus point 4-3 shootout ‘win’ on a testing evening – with home players Jordan Boon and Adam Senior missing from the spot,
Bantams manager Gary Bowyer will not have seen the funny side in the first half, especially when Dennis Politic ran at the heart of a backtracking City before seeing his shot breach the defence of keeper Sam Hornby.
It was a cue to a piercing roar from home supporters – the goal may not have been struck by a Youri Djorkaeff or Jay-Jay Okocha, but you would never had known with that sort of roar reserved for happier days during the club’s golden spell under Sam Allardyce in the Noughties.
Bowyer, jeered on his return to Bolton, stood by the touchline with his arms folded. He was certainly not amused.
The sight of the Wanderers whippersnappers – a group who should have been scarred by successful five-goal pummellings against Gillingham, Ipswich and Tranmere alongside a 5-2 Carabao Cup exit at Rochdale – handing City a footballing lesson at times in the first period was embarrassing to watch.
City went close when Tyler French’s header was cleared off the line by Boon and Jordan Gibson hit the post. But after a summer of discontent, it was understandable that the home faithful were lapping it up.
A Bradford leveller from Paudie O’Connor – who headed home following Harry Pritchard’s corner on 52 minutes – could not dampen the mood of euphoria.
Gradually, City’s fitness and seniority took pre-eminence, with Pritchard hitting the post, but Bolton deservedly made it to penalties, which was a minor triumph in itself. The bigger story is that those with Red Rose blood in this part of the world have their club back again.
Bolton Wanderers: Alexander; Brockbank, Senior, Zouma, Boon; King-Harmes (Fitzmartin 76), Weir, Graham, Darcy; Brown (Brown-Sterling 65), Politic (White 82). Substitutes unused: Hutchinson, Edmondson, Osigwe, Whalley.
Bradford City: Hornby; Richards-Everton, P O’Connor, Longridge; Anderson, Devine, Devitt (Patrick 17), Pritchard (Wood 66); Donaldson (Ismail 64), Gibson. Substitutes unused: A O’Connor, Palmer, Akpan, O’Donnell.
Referee: M Coy (Durham).