David Wheater and Sanmi Odelusi return from injury in U21s draw with Derby
David Wheater and Sanmi Odelusi made their long-awaited returns from injury as an experienced Wanderers side were forced to settle for a share of the points against Derby County in a hard-fought encounter at the Impact Arena.
After a goalless first half, Max Clayton opened the scoring for the Whites with his first goal for the club courtesy of a curling 25-yard free-kick.
However, the hosts equalised as Mason Bennett fired home from the penalty spot, and despite the introduction of Odelusi with five minutes to go, Bolton were unable to find a late winner.
Liam Trotter and David Wheater both started for Wanderers as the Whites named a strong side featuring no less eight starters with first team experience.
There were also places in the starting XI for Max Clayton, Rob Hall, Medo Kamara, Oscar Threlkeld, Josh Vela and Conor Wilkinson, while Samni Odelusi was named on the substitutes’ bench having missed the last seven months through injury.
Wanderers started the game brightly and could have taken an early lead after they were awarded a free-kick 25-yards from goal. Making his first appearance since the end of August, David Wheater stepped up to take the set-piece, only to see his strike deflected behind.
Conor Wilkinson was in the thick of the action early on, and was twice unfortunate not to open the scoring inside the opening 15 minutes.
Having first been picked out in the box by Rob Hall, the forward held off his man well before dragging his strike just wide of goal
Receiving the ball again on the edge of the area moments later following clever link-up play from Max Clayton and Liam Trotter after a swift Whites counter-attack, Wilkinson tried to find space for a shot only to see his eventual effort blocked.
Derby almost made Bolton pay for the early misses immediately after a low Rams cross found its way to Alefe Santos after he was left free at the far post. However, the midfielder somehow failed to hit the target, instead firing a shot harmlessly into the stands from point-blank range.
Hall and Clayton both tested Derby keeper Jonathan Mitchell with teasing free-kicks, before Wilkinson scuffed an effort straight at the shot-stopper after controlling Wheater’s flick on.
There was action at both ends in the dying embers of the half as Alban Bunjaku first cannoned a shot against the post from an acute angle for Derby, before Mitchell sprinted off his line to deny Clayton at the other end when the forward was one-on-one.
The rebound fell kindly to Hall but the winger was unable to find the unguarded net as the sides went in at the break with the scores level.
Derby created the first chance after the interval as Alefe Santos unleashed a thunderous effort from range following a short corner, only to see his strike fly narrowly wide of Ross Fitzsimons’ far post with the keeper beaten.
However, the Trotters fought back and soon took the lead after being awarded a 25-yard free-kick out on the left-flank.
With Wheater now positioned in the area, Clayton stepped up to take the set-piece and beat Mitchell at his near post with a fine curling effort.
Clayton came close to doubling Wanderers’ lead soon-after cutting in from the left before again trying to beat Mitchell at his near post, only to see his effort this time fly narrowly wide.
There were a few hearts in mouths after an untimely Fitzsimons slip presented Shaquille McDonald with the perfect opportunity to equalise, however the forward could only fire straight at the grounded keeper.
However, a slip did cost the Whites with 15 minutes left on the clock as Medo lost his footing in the Bolton area, taking out Bunjaku in the process as Derby were presented with the chance to equalise from the penalty spot.
Mason Bennett stepped up and made no mistake with the spot-kick, confidently beating Fitzsimons with a powerful strike into the keeper’s bottom right-hand corner.
The Trotters had a late chance to win it after Clayton picked out an unmarked Hall at the far post, with the ball a little too high for the wideman, he was unable to find the target with his header.
Samni Odelusi made his long-awaited return from injury as he joined the action late as Wanderers pushed for a late-winner, but with no chance presenting itself they were forced to settle for a point from what was an evenly-contested game.
Bolton: Fitzsimons, Maher (Taylor 27 (Clough 47)), Sellers, Threlkeld, Wheater, Medo, Clayton, Vela, Wilkinson (Odelusi 86), Trotter, Hall.
Unused subs: Campbell, Perry.
Derby: Mitchell, Hendrie (Lelan 54), Lowe, Koblenz, Rawson, Hanson, Santos, Guy, McDonald (Zanzala 72), Bunjaku (Sharpe 80), Bennett
Unused subs: Etheridge, Vernam.