Jamar Loza’s goal against the run of play condemned the Whites’ Under-21s to an undeserved 1-0 defeat against Norwich City at the County Ground.
The centre forward hit the decisive strike shortly before half time and despite Bolton enjoying a number of chances to level the scores in the second half, they were ultimately thwarted by the experienced John Ruddy in the Canaries’ goal.
Wanderers will feel aggrieved not to have secured a positive result out of the game, but will certainly take solace from a determined performance.
The Whites had started brightly, with Niall Maher testing the Norwich defence inside the opening minute of the game.
The Canaries should have arguably taken the lead with four minutes gone after Loza pulled the ball back for the advancing Michael Clunan, but he scuffed his shot wide with the goal at his mercy.
Maher was again troubling the visitors just moments later after he was played in by Jack Sampson, but goalkeeper Ruddy smothered his powerful shot.
Loza almost capitalised on a lapse in concentration by the Whites’ defence soon after, but the striker failed to get any power behind his shot which was easily saved by Rob Lainton.
Cian Bolger went close to notching his second goal in as many games in the tenth minute as he attempted to get his head on the end of Joe McKee’s lofty free-kick, but the defender just failed to make contact.
The Bolton captain went within inches of finding the back of the net yet again in the 18th minute when his shot from two yards out was cleared off the line, with Sampson also going close after firing the rebound into a resilient Norwich defence.
With Wanderers well and truly in control of the clash, Jamie Fullarton’s side could certainly count themselves unlucky not to have taken the lead inside the opening quarter of the game.
Having withstood a tirade of Bolton pressure, Norwich finally found an opening as Ewan McNeil powered in on goal, but the left back fired his shot over Lainton’s crossbar.
Normal service was soon resumed though, with Sampson collecting Adam Blakeman’s superb through ball just inside the area, but the big striker fired inches wide.
Despite their dominance however, Wanderers were undone just seven minutes before the break as the ever dangerous Loza pounced on Sam Kelly’s downfield pass and slotted the ball home under the advancing Lainton to give the Canaries the lead against the run of play.
The Whites were not to be deterred however with both McKee and Sampson going close to levelling the scores before the half time whistle, but their efforts were in vain.
Buoyed by their goal, Norwich began the second half with more gusto than they did the first with Loza heading the ball into the path of Rhys Browne early on, but he failed to convert the opportunity.
Wanderers looked certain to equalise in the 51st minute after McKee played the ball down the line for Maher who powered into the area, but the full-back’s shot flashed across the face of goal with Ruddy nowhere to be seen.
Clough looked set to add to his impressive goal scoring record this season on the hour mark as he was played through by Sampson, but the keeper did well to tip the youngster’s neatly placed strike away for a corner kick.
The chance appeared to rejuvenate Bolton, with Clough again forcing the Norwich goalkeeper into a smart save from close range after collecting Adam Blakeman’s quickly taken free-kick.
Oluwasanmi Odelusi went close next for the Whites as his shot from the edge of the area deflected off Clough, but the ball was comfortably caught by Ruddy.
Wanderers continued to press in search of a goal, with Sampson heading just wide and Odelusi testing the Canaries’ keeper from distance.
With Bolton virtually camped in Norwich’s half, Clough looked to have brought his side level in the 77th minute as he unleashed a curling effort from just outside the area, but Ruddy pulled off yet another impressive save to keep the striker at bay.
As the clocked ticked down both Iliev and Clough forced their way into the visitors’ penalty area, but it was to no avail as the Canaries held out for the victory.
Wanderers: Lainton, Maher, Kellett, McQuade, Bolger, Threlkeld, McKee (Iliev, 54), Blakeman, Sampson, Clough, Odelusi (Subs not used: Sievers, Dennis, Holding, Hamer)
Norwich: Ruddy, Carroll, McNeil, Nkumu, Sheriff, Gafaiti, Hodd, Clunan, Loza, Browne, Kelly (Subs not used: Heath, Steer, St Louis, Efete)