REPORT | BOLTON WANDERERS 0 ARGYLE 0
Argyle battled and scrapped their way to a hard-fought goalless draw against Bolton Wanderers, extending their lead in the Sky Bet League One table and handing debuts to four new players.
One of those debutants, Ben Waine, came closest for the Greens, as his second-half header was cleared off the line by former Pilgrim Will Aimson. At the other end, Bolton created numerous chances for Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Dion Charles, who were denied by either brave defensive blocks, or excellent stops from Michael Cooper.
Much of the talk around Home Park leading into this game had been focused on incomings and one departure. Whilst Morgan Whittaker’s loan spell at Argyle was cut short, recalled by Swansea City, a quartet of signings joined the club in the space of a week - and all of them featured in the match day squad against Bolton.
Callum Wright, the attacking midfielder signed from Blackpool, made a full debut - one of two changes to the side that started the New Year’s Day win, with Niall Ennis also replaced by Sam Cosgrove. Argyle’s other new boys - permanent signings Ben Waine and Saxon Earley, alongside Sunderland loanee Jay Matete - were substitutes.
The hosts made one change, also giving a full debut to a new recruit. Randell Williams, the former Exeter City player, signed by Wanderers from Hull City, replaced Jack Iredale, who picked up a knee injury during their victory at Barnsley.
With the sides deploying similar formations, it was an even and fractious start to the game. Bolton did show early promise in the inside-left channel, with both Williams and Kyle Dempsey delivering dangerous crosses from that area in the opening ten minutes.
The Pilgrims showed more promise as the first half went on, with Bali Mumba getting on the ball more and asking questions of Bolton’s back line. Good work from Danny Mayor forced the game’s first corner in the 39th minute, but Adam Randell’s cross was easily grabbed by Manchester City loanee James Trafford.
Games involving the Trotters this season tend to be tight affairs, and this was more of the same, but Bolton burst into life before the break. Dion Charles found space behind Argyle’s back line and set up Kieran Lee, but the captain’s poor first touch saw the opportunity slip away. Moments later, Charles had a chance of his own inside the area, which needed a lunging block to take away from goal. The Greens were forced backwards, but held their ground as a first half high on effort, but low on opportunities, came to a close.
The start of the second period took a similar form to the end of the first. A loose square ball from Joe Edwards triggered a spell of pressure for Bolton, culminating in a powerful strike from Williams which James Wilson blocked brilliantly.
Argyle responded with their best opportunity so far; a free kick won by Danny Mayor on the right side was flicked into the box by Randell, finding Cosgrove, whose header sailed past the far post. At the other end, Bolton then had a headed chance of their own, as George Johnston couldn’t convert from Aaron Morley’s corner.
As Steven Schumacher made a pair of changes - Macaulay Gillesphey and Ryan Hardie replacing Nigel Lonwijk and Sam Cosgrove - the game began to open up. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson did excellently to shrug off Argyle players and slip in Charles, but Edwards tracked back to snuff out the danger.
Bolton were banging on the door. Dempsey, Bradley, and Bodvarsson were all denied, the latter missing a one-on-one chance from six yards out, thanks to a sprawling save from Cooper. Schumacher looked to change the momentum with another pair of changes - Matete and Waine making their debuts, in place of Mayor and Wright.
New Zealander Waine looked to make an instant impact, winning the ball in midfield, then galloping down the right channel, before his low cross forced a stretching clearance. The resulting corner caused havoc, but was eventually cleared to trigger a Bolton counter. An Edwards challenge produced not just a yellow card for himself, but also for James Wilson and Bodvarsson, who were involved in a subsequent melee.
Once the dust had settled, Argyle found themselves with more of a foothold in the game. More possession further up field allowed Mumba to get forward, take on defenders, and force desperate Bolton clearances. Bolton regrouped, though, and had a flurry of chances from the 75th minute. Morley cut a shot just wide, before playing in Bradley with a terrific long ball, but Dan Scarr sprinted across to cut out the chance.
Out of nowhere, the Greens almost found themselves in front with five minutes to play. Good work from Matete allowed Randell to deliver a cross towards Waine, who beat the oncoming Trafford to the ball. His header looped high into the Bolton sky, and looked destined to find the net, but former Pilgrim Will Aimson produced a superb clearance off his own goal line.
The drama continued into stoppage time, but at the other end. Wanderers flew down the left wing, and substitutes combined as Owen Beck laid in Elias Kachunga, whose strike smacked the foot of the post and was hacked to safety. Argyle once again resisted heavy pressure as the game concluded - not conceding a goal, but losing a man, as Edwards picked up a second yellow card after catching the impressive Beck.
One final chance slipped by for Bolton, as Johnston’s back post header was collected by Cooper. Argyle kept perhaps their most hard-earned clean sheet of the season, returned to Devon with a draw, and took their lead atop Sky Bet League One to five points.
Argyle: 1 Mike Cooper; 4 Jordan Houghton, 5 James Wilson, 6 Dan Scarr, 8 Joe Edwards (capt), 10 Danny Mayor (28 Jay Matete, 66), 16 Sam Cosgrove (9 Ryan Hardie, 57), 17 Bali Mumba (24 Saxon Earley, 90), 20 Adam Randell, 21 Nigel Lonwijk (MacAuley Gillesphey, 57), 26 Callum Wright (23 Ben Waine, 66). Substitutes (not used): 25 Callum Burton (gk), 7 Matt Butcher.
Booked: Edwards 70, Wilson 70, Cooper 90
Sent off: Edwards, 90
Bolton Wanderers: 19 James Trafford, 6 George Johnston, 9 Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (11 Amadou Bakayoko, 80), 10 Dion Charles (24 Elias Kachunga, 82), 15 Will Aimson, 16 Aaron Morley, 18 Eoin Toal, 20 Kieran Lee (capt) (8 Josh Sheehan, 81), 21 Conor Bradley, 22 Kyle Dempsey, 27 Randell Williams (30 Owen Beck, 75). Substitutes (not used): 2 Gethin Jones, 4 MJ Williams, 7 Kieran Sadlier.
Booked: Bodvarsson 70
Attendance: 18,638 (1,277 away)
Referee: Declan Bourne