Report: Bolton 3-4 Watford
Bolton Wanderers lost at Macron Stadium in the league for the first time under Neil Lennon as they fell to a dramatic late defeat against promotion-chasing Watford.
Despite falling behind to an Odion Ighalo strike, goals in quick-succession from Zach Clough and Adam Le Fondre had fired the Whites ahead at the break.
However, visitors Watford fought back with Almen Abdi scoring from range before Joel Ekstrand headed the Hornets in front.
Clough netted his second late on to seemingly earn Bolton a share of the points, only for substitute Troy Deeney to steal victory for Watford right at the death.
Neil Lennon made one change to the Wanderers side that beat Fulham on Tuesday night as Zach Clough came in for Eidur Gudjohnsen.
Meanwhile, with the Icelander on the substitutes’ bench and Matt Mills still injured, David Wheater captained the side on his 28th birthday.
Wanderers started the match brightly and were unlucky not to take the lead inside the opening five minutes after Adam Le Fondre and the returning Zach Clough combined in the Watford area.
Receiving a low pass from Clough in the centre, Le Fondre got the ball out from under his feet well but was unable to keep his subsequent shot on goal down for what was the game’s first opening.
Continuing to press forward, birthday boy and stand-in skipper David Wheater had the next chance for the Whites to open the scoring, coming on the quarter-hour mark.
However, despite leaping highest at the far post to connect with Barry Bannan’s inch-perfect first-time cross, the defender was always leaning back to make the header as his effort floated over the bar.
At the other Andrew Lonergan was called into action for the first time, saving with his legs to deny Almen Abdi inside the area after he was picked out by Ikechi Anya.
Wheater was involved again moments later as Bolton once more threatened to take the lead; his glancing header from Liam Feeney’s inswinging corner drifting narrowly wide of the far post when goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes was caught flat-footed.
Having marked his Trotters debut with a goal, Saidy Janko came close to making it two from two from Wanderers’ next attack after being picked out down the right-hand side by Le Fondre.
With space in front of him to run into, the Manchester United loanee powered a strike at goal from the edge of the area only to see his effort fly into the side-netting.
Watford took the lead soon after through in-form striker Odion Ighalo as the Nigerian showed quick-feet to turn Wheater on the edge of the Whites’ area, before calmly slotting past Lonergan into the bottom-corner.
But Bolton responded well and almost equalised within minutes of falling behind as a Josh Vela cross caused havoc inside the Hornets area.
With the ball eventually falling to Le Fondre in space, the forward rifled a half-volley towards the bottom corner with Gomes beaten, only to see Ben Watson emerge at the last-minute to boot clear off the line.
The Trotters remained in control of proceedings as the half wore on despite the score-line, with Bannan the next player to test Gomes in the Watford goal.
Unleashing a thunderous effort from distance, only a finger-tip save from the former Brazilian international could deny the Scot as Gomes got enough on the ball to tip push it over the bar.
But Wanderers did get the goal their first-half performance deserved with their very next attack, taking advantage of Watford falling asleep at the back to level through Zach Clough.
Having seen Janko play the ball outwide to the offside Le Fondre, the Watford back-line were caught appealing for the decision despite the forward leaving the ball for the onrushing Feeney.
Taking advantage of their hesitation, the Whites wideman stole in before pinging the ball across goal to Clough, leaving the youngster with a simple finish at the far post.
Tim Ream came agonisingly close to scoring his first goal in Bolton colours moments later as he slammed a shot into the side-netting from an acute angle after the ball fell kindly to him at the far post.
However, the Trotters did soon found themselves ahead moments before the break as Le Fondre notched for his second goal in two games.
Running onto Feeney’s low cross, the forward connected with an instinctive finish at the near post to beat Gomes and fire Wanderers into a deserve lead at the interval.
Awakened by falling behind, visitors Watford had the better of the second half’s opening moments as Andrew Lonergan was twice called into action in quick succession.
First palming away Abdi’s curling free-kick, the keeper stood tall at his near post to keep out Anya’s stinging drive soon after.
The Hornets introduced Troy Deeney in place of Gabriele Angella as they searched for an equaliser, but it was the withdrawal of an extra defensive body that provided the Whites with an extra threat on the counter-attack as they twice came close to extending their lead in a matter of moments.
With Clough and Le Fondre combining well on the break, Gomes had to be alert to deny the latter at his near post on two separate occasions, after Bolton twice found themselves in two-on-two scenarios.
Meanwhile, only a rare poor first touch from Clough denied him a shot on goal at the near post after he was picked out by Janko’s low cross.
Lonergan continued to come on to in his ongoing battle with Abdi, as he twice denied the midfielder from distance before keeping out Ighalo’s rebound at his near post, unaware that the offside flag had already been raised.
However, there was nothing the keeper could do to keep out Abdi’s next effort as the midfielder found the back of the net with an unstoppable curling strike from range to fire Watford back on level-terms.
Rather than be disheartened at being pegged back, the Trotters again responded well with only a stunning treble-save from Gomes preventing them from instantly re-taking the lead.
Twice spreading his body to deny Le Fondre from close-range, the keeper showed great reactions to get back to his line and leap on Clough’s rebound at a time when the goal was gaping.
Clough was involved again soon after as he shrugged off numerous Watford challenges before bursting down the middle, but was unable to hit the target with his subsequent shot on goal from the edge of the area.
And Wanderers were made to rue their missed chances minutes later as Joel Ekstrand headed Watford in front, his flicked header from Abdi’s cross looping in at the far post.
Eidur Gudjohnsen came on in place of Janko with ten minutes left on the clock as the Whites went in search of a late equaliser, with the introduction of the veteran forward seemingly having the desired effect on his team-mates as they equalised minutes later.
With Feeney again the provider, Clough had the time and space in the area to unleash an unstoppable first-time strike past Gomes into the far corner for his second of the afternoon.
But in the dying embers of the game Watford took the lead through a substitute of their own, Deeney firing across goal into the bottom corner to put the Hornets back ahead.
The end-to-end drama continued as Wheater thought he had marked his birthday with another late equaliser after substitute Tom Eaves’ strike had been parried by Gomes, only to see his close-range strike ruled out for offside.
And despite further late pressure, Neil Lennon’s side were left frustrated at the final whistle as they suffered defeat at Macron Stadium for the first time in the Championship under the Northern Irishman.