REPORT: Wanderers v Derby County

Wanderers couldn’t find a winner but gave everything for the biggest University of Bolton Stadium crowd for over a decade to hopefully leave them wanting more.

The attendance of 25,428 was the White’s highest home gate since the final game of their last Premier League season in 2011/12.

They didn’t see a goal as Derby extended their unbeaten run to nine games in League One from a highly competitive clash.

But Wanderers pushed them all the way to stay a place above the Rams in fifth place.

And having not been able to produce a goal from a dominant spell early in the second – and then right at the death – Ian Evatt’s men made sure they wouldn’t suffer just a third home defeat of the season as a third successive clean sheet saw them end the year at the UniBol on a positive note.

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Wanderers were unchanged from the side that had started their win over Exeter before Christmas as they geared up for a crucial run of games either side of the New Year.

It was certainly a high-profile start to a potentially pivotal period with the television cameras back in town to see two big clubs with a common current goal go toe-to-toe in a fantastic atmosphere.

And it felt like a heavyweight clash as the sides sparred before the break in search of a first decisive blow.

Wanderers had more of the ball and the better sights of goal as they tried to work an opening.

Jack Iredale saw an early shot blocked following a well-worked corner routine before Aaron Morley picked out Dapo Afolayan, whose shot had some of the sting taken out of it before reaching goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith.

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Conor Bradley carried his usual threat down Wanderers’ right and rolled an effort wide himself with just over half an hour gone.

But Derby provided a danger of their on the break, often through widemen Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Tom Barkhuizen without forcing James Trafford into a serious save.

And in the visitors’ best spell of the first half just before the break, a cross from Louie Sibley sliced off the otherwise exemplary Will Aimson to bounce on the top of the Wanderers’ bar.

With that scare behind them and Wanderers not giving an inch at the back, the Whites were back on the offensive in a positive start to the second half as Iredale and Eoin Toal from the opposite flank delivered searching balls that had the Rams’ defence at full stretch.

And with Wanderers beginning to turn the screw, they created the best chance so far with almost an hour gone.

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Evatt’s men were moving the ball well and when Aimson got things moving with a lovely lofted pass to Kieran Lee, the stand-in skipper fed Bradley to pick out Dion Charles for an effort he steered the wrong side of the post from 15 yards out.

Afolayan then drove a ball into the near post which Bradley couldn’t divert goalwards after Lee and Iredale had worked the opening as the importance of a possible first goal continued to grow.

And with the contest still on a knife edge and Derby responding, top scorer James Collins flashed a header into the side netting from a Conor Hourihane cross just after Wanderers had made their first changes with MJ Williams and Kyle Dempsey coming on to provide fresh legs in the middle of the pitch.

Evatt also sent on Elias Kachunga, Amadou Bakayoko and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson in a bid to try and win the game late on with the outstanding George Johnston taking over the captain's armband.

The tempo didn’t let up and with Wanderers going right to the end they almost grabbed all three points with the last kick of the game.

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Kachunga made excellent contact with a flying volley from Dempsey’s cross but the ball was just close enough for a grateful Joe Wildsmith to grab and make sure neither side would finish empty-handed in the tussle for places in the play-off zone.

Wanderers: Trafford; Toal, Aimson, Johnston; Bradley, Morley (Bakayoko 79), Sheehan (Dempsey 67), Iredale; Lee (Williams 67); Charles (Kachunga 79), Afolayan. Substitutes: Sadlier, Beck.

Booked: Bradley

Derby County: Wildsmith; Smith, Forsyth, Cashin, Sibley; Hourihane; Mendez-Laing, Knight, Bird, Barkhuizen (Dobbin, 63); Collins. Substitutes: Loach, Roberts, Thompson, Stearman, Osula, Davies.

Booked: Forsyth

Referee: Samuel Barrott

Attendance: 25,428

Read Time: 4 mins