Benik Afobe nets an impressive hat-trick as Bolton win on the Wirral
Super sub Benik Afobe lit up Tuesday’s friendly at Prenton Park, scoring a second-half hat-trick to earn Wanderers a 3-1 win over Tranmere.
The Arsenal loanee netted all three in the space of 30 minutes after replacing the returning Marvin Sordell at half-time.
Afobe’s goals were classy finishes; an instinctive first-time effort, a powerful header and a clinical low shot from the edge of the area.
Tranmere netted a consolation in the final minutes through Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, but it was an encouraging performance for Owen Coyle’s men as they responded from the loss at Portsmouth in fine style.
Owen Coyle made six changes from the team named at Portsmouth three days earlier for what was the seventh and penultimate friendly of pre-season.
One player to keep his place was Chris Eagles, and he would have put Bolton ahead inside the first two minutes had it not been for a fine low save from Owain Fon Williams.
After a free-kick had been awarded for a push on Kevin Davies, Eagles stepped up and rifled in a 30-yard effort, only for the Welsh goalkeeper to acrobatically push the ball around his right-hand post.
The former Burnley man was operating on the left in a 4-4-2 formation, with Chung-Yong Lee playing on the opposite touchline.
The South Korean also forged out a decent opportunity for himself in the opening exchanges, making a well-timed run into the area and side-footing a volley inches wide of the post.
Indeed, everything positive for Bolton in the first half came through the two aforementioned widemen and this was none more evident than at the midway point in the first half when Wanderers went from defence to attack in the space of just a few seconds.
Chung-Yong left two men standing when he pivoted on the edge of his own area, before arrowing a pass into Kevin Davies on halfway. The captain released Eagles on the left wing who outpaced full-back Danny Holmes, only to see his shot dragged across goal.
Marvin Sordell, back from Olympic duty with team GB, also looked menacing in his first start for the club. His snap-shot volley, similar to Chung-Yong’s earlier, missed the target by a matter of inches just before the half-hour mark.
While Bolton had the better chances in a goalless first half, Tranmere also caused a few moments of concern for Andy Lonergan.
Akpa Akpro sliced over, a cross-shot from roaming left-winger Andy Robinson drifted fractionally wide of the post and skipper James Wallace bent an effort a couple of yards over the target from 25 yards out.
Sordell’s evening lasted only 45 minutes as he was replaced at the interval by Benik Afobe, who produced a scintillating second-half performance to effectively win the game on his own.
The Arsenal loanee wasted little time in making an impact as he drilled Bolton ahead five minutes after the restart, capitalising on a mistake by full-back Holmes.
After the ball fell loose 12 yards out, Fon Williams in goal had no chance as Afobe belted a first-time finish into the roof of the net.
The hosts were only a top-drawer Lonergan save away from drawing back level three minutes after the deadlock was broken as Wallace tried his luck with a speculative attempt from 25 yards out. The Tranmere skipper could not have made better contact and fortunately for Wanderers, Lonergan was well positioned to move to his left and athletically tip the ball over the bar for a corner.
Joe Riley made an important headed clearance in his own six-yard box and Robinson blazed wide, before the scene was set for Afobe to cause chaos in the final quarter of an hour.
He netted his second of the evening on 75 minutes, finding space inside a crowded penalty area to head in Eagles’ free-kick from the left.
And only three minutes later, the 19-year-old had his third, this time latching onto Kevin Davies’ lay-off and smashing in a low shot from the edge of the area.
Ronnie Moore’s men did register with virtually the last kick of the game, as substitute Max Power’s cross was bundled over the line by Akpa Akpro, but it was nothing more than a consolation.
As for Owen Coyle, he will be hoping his team can take that second-half performance into Barcelona B and beyond.
Tranmere: Fon Williams, Holmes, Bakayogo, Taylor, McChrystal, Palmer, Thompson (Bell-Baggie 72), Wallace (Power 86), Apka Apkro, Robinson, Cassidy (Subs not used: Harrison, Mooney, Kirby, Kay)
Wanderers: Lonergan, Alonso, Ream, Eagles (Wylde 76), Knight (Mills 46), Kevin Davies, Mark Davies, Sordell (Afobe 46), Pratley (Vela 64), Riley, Chung-Yong (O’Halloran 79) (Subs not used: Bogdan, Mears, Petrov , Lynch)