Dave Challinor’s first match at the managerial helm proved a highly entertaining affair, as County’s FA Cup adventure continued with a draw at League One near-ish neighbours Bolton Wanderers.
A year to the day after claiming a First Round Football League scalp in the North West behind closed doors, at Rochdale, the Hatters were roared on by a vociferous, 5,000-plus away contingent, as an action-packed first half saw Scott Quigley and Ben Whitfield score either side of two Bolton goals within as many minutes.
There were no additions to the score after the interval, but County’s first competitive meeting with the ‘Trotters’ in almost 20 years – when Bolton had triumphed, also in the Cup, at Edgeley Park – will be remembered as a highly credible effort against hosts two tiers higher.
The Hatters took to the field on a crisp autumn Sunday afternoon, showing four changes from the starting line-up at Dover the previous weekend. Sam Minihan made his first appearance of the season following recovery from surgery, while there were also recalls for Mark Kitching, Ash Palmer and Whitfield – with Jordan Keane, Ethan Pye and Ryan Rydel dropping to the nine-player bench permitted in the competition, and former Bolton skipper Antoni Sarcevic missing out against the club he had left for County 16 days earlier.
The hosts’ leading scorer Dapo Afolayan struck the first shot of note – firing wide of the right post, after the inaugural corner of the afternoon had been half-cleared, with just over five minutes on the clock.
MJ Williams was the next home player to try his luck – blasting over from the edge of the box – before Ethan Ross was called into action to block a point-blank effort from ex-Huddersfield striker Elias Kachunger, who had been teed up from the right by Eoin Doyle.
With the mid-point of the first half approaching, the Hatters had yet to fashion a chance – but when they did, they made it count, as Quigley seized upon an under-hit back pass by George Thomason, before cutting in from the left to slot the ball past Joel Dixon and give County the lead.
The Trotters looked to get back into their stride, initially through Lloyd Isgrove, whose shot was deflected past the right post, and Afolayan, who fired straight at Ross.
Then, 11 minutes after going behind, they restored parity when Doyle converted Isgrove’s low delivery from the right. And within another two, Bolton had the lead – with Kachunga scoring his first goal for the Trotters after Ross could only parry Afolayan’s shot.
County came close to equalising through headers by Paddy Madden, whose attempt from a Minihan cross on the right was kept out by the fingertips of Dixon, and Palmer, whom the home goalkeeper denied after the defender had connected with a John Rooney corner.
But during five minutes of added time, County did finally level, as Quigley held the ball up for Madden to play through to Whitfield, who made no mistake from close range to send the Hatters in back on terms at the break.
HALF-TIME: Bolton 2 (Doyle, 33; Kachunga, 35), County 2 (Quigley, 22; Whitfield, 45 + 2).
Whitfield’s finish for the goal was to be his last act of the afternoon, as Ryan Rydel was introduced for him upon the resumption. But the Hatters almost re-started where they had left off, when, five minutes into the second half, Quigley was put through on goal by Madden – only to be beaten to the ball by Dixon after his first touch.
Afolayan continued to look dangerous for the hosts – with his delivery from the left across County’s six-yard box just lacking a final touch by the sliding Doyle. The Irishman did then connect with an Isgrove delivery just ahead of the hour, but his header was brilliantly saved by Ross in front of the right post – and the Irishman drilled wide of the same upright shortly afterwards, after being put through by Afolayan.
The hosts were very much dominating in terms of chances, as Thomason fired an effort over from 25 yards, substitute Liam Gordon’s dipping cross from the left was tipped behind by Ross, and veteran defender Alex Baptiste latched on to another Afolayan cross before side-footing wide.
But the Hatters held firm to earn a replay at Edgeley Park, as well as a place for their name in the hat for the Second Round draw.
FULL-TIME: Bolton 2 (Doyle, 33; Kachunga, 35), County 2 (Quigley, 22; Whitfield, 45 + 2).
Team (4-2-3-1): Ross; Minihan (Collar, 60), Hogan (Capt.), Palmer, Kitching (Pye, 70); Croasdale (Keane, 79), Rooney; Crankshaw, Madden, Whitfield (Rydel, 46); Quigley (Reid, 79).
Unused Subs: Hinchliffe, Barclay, Raikhy, Fish.
Attendance: 11,183 (5,110 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.