A late Crawley fight-back ensured that Bolton’s Capital One Cup commitments for 2012/13 ended at the second round stage.
Having taken a 1-0 lead into half-time through Benik Afobe’s first goal in Bolton colours, the hosts turned the tie on its head with two goals in the final ten minutes.
Substitute Billy Clarke curled the Reds level on 80 minutes, before the impressive Nicky Ajose headed his team into the next round deep into injury time.
Owen Coyle made seven changes to his starting line-up, one of which was Josh Vela who was handed his first start in a Bolton shirt. However, it was a full debut that was to last just six minutes as he was forced from the field after sustaining an early ankle injury.
The home side pressed, probed and looked to impose themselves on Bolton in the opening exchanges, with one chance of note being a glancing header from defender Kyle McFazean that skimmed the crossbar on nine minutes.
But after weathering Crawley’s bright start, Bolton took the lead with their first chance of the game when Benik Afobe opened his account for the club with 20 minutes on the clock.
Martin Petrov drifted in from the left touchline, carried the ball past former Wanderer Mark Connolly before executing the perfect slide-rule pass. Afobe was on it in a flash, composing himself and jabbing his finish under Paul Jones from ten yards out.
The deadlock-breaking goal helped Bolton to settle and they asserted themselves on Crawley much more in the second part of the first half.
Chris Eagles was looking like his usual busy and creative self, while the midfield men Mark Davies and Keith Andrews were having more of a say in the central areas.
Wanderers felt they could have had penalty kick on half-hour when Afobe took a tumble inside the area under a dubious challenge from McFadzean. Likewise, the lively Ajose went down inside the box after claiming he’d been tripped by Zat Knight, but referee Graham Scott was unmoved on both occasions.
Although there was plenty of endeavour from both sides, clear cut chances were at a premium in the opening 45 minutes. Andy Lonergan’s only real involvement was the clutch hold of a long-range effort from Nicky Adams, while Knight blasted the ball out of the ground with an ambitious 30-yard half-volley just prior to the half-time whistle.
The second half was a more entertaining contest, thanks largely to the fact that Crawley came out after the break in the belief they could still get back into the game. Within five minutes of the restart, Shaun Cooper and Adams both had shots from outside the area that weren’t too far away.
Wanderers boss Coyle was forced into his second change of the evening with an hour gone as Afobe was withdrawn from the action after getting an apparent knock to his hip. Marvin Sordell was the replacement in a like-for-like change up top.
Crawley’s search for an equaliser continued; full-back Mat Sadler planted a free header on to the roof of the net as roaming playmaker Ajose was at the source of all things creative for the Reds.
At the other end, Sordell thought he had wrapped the tie up when he smashed the ball into the net with 72 minutes gone, only for the linesman’s flag to bring a halt to the cheers of the 300 Wanderers fans that had made the long trip south.
Instead, Crawley went straight upfield and netted the equaliser as substitute Billy Clarke made it 1-1 on 80 minutes.
The former Blackpool man found a pocket of space just outside the box and, having spotted a glimpse of the far corner of the net through a host of bodies, he expertly bent the ball past Andy Lonergan’s dive.
A minute later and Crawley’s star man Ajose was inches away from volleying Crawley’s second, only to see his effort skim the far post.
The diminutive striker made the most of his next opportunity as he sent Crawley into the third round with a powerful low header from six yards deep into injury time after Clarke had floated across a centre from the right.
It could have been different, however, as only minutes before Crawley’s winner, Paul Jones has made two saves in the space of a minute, firstly denying a powerful shot from Eagles before beating away Petrov’s fierce effort.
Sordell also scuffed wide when unmarked at the far post, plus appeals for a stonewall penalty fell on deaf ears when Pratley was scythed down by Connolly.
As it was, Crawley came out on the right side of the fine margins to book a place in the last 32 of the competition.
Crawley: Jones, Sadler, Connolly, McFadzean, Akpan, Torres (Bulman 46), Forte, Ajose, Adams, Cooper (Clarke 75), Davis (Subs not used: Simpson, Hunt, Akinde, Neilson, Kuipers)
Wanderers: Lonergan, Alonso, Ream, Eagles, Andrews, Petrov, Knight, M Davies (K Davies 71), Afobe (Sordell 56), Riley, Vela (Pratley 6) (Subs not used: Bogdan, Mills, Wylde, Ricketts)