After a goal early on from Conor Bradley, City were unable to make any of their chances in either half count, with Bolton travelling back to Greater Manchester with all three points as the first game of the Easter extravaganza ending in defeat.
Gary made two changes to the starting XI that travelled up to Fleetwood in the previous game. With Jay Stansfield and Demetri Mitchell missing out due to injury, James Scott and Jack Sparkes take their places. Further changes were the return of Pedro Borges and Sonny Cox from their respective loans at Tiverton and Bath.
It was a quick start from both sides as either attack had chances in the opposing box, but it was City who had the biggest of chances early on. Coming from a corner, Alex Hartridge sent the ball goalward, but his glancing header just missed the target.
Another close effort for City came in the tenth minute, with Bolton struggling with the long ball over the top, City’s wingbacks were taking full advantage. The ball founds it way from Sparke to Archie Collins at the back post, but City’s number eight was unable to take the ball under control and shot wide.
As the first half was trundling along, the game was starting to open up more and more with both sides seeing quite an even amount of the ball, however, it was Bolton who took first blood. A ball over the top from Josh Sheehan found Conor Bradley and in a one-on-one with Blackman the Wanderers player came out on top and slotted it underneath the onrushing keeper.
35 minutes in and City though they had equalised after the ball had found its way into the back of the net, but from a Key corner the ball was alleged to have deflected in off the hand of Will Aimson and the referee ruled it out.
Moments later and City came close once again, this time it was Key on the right hand who sent a looping cross into the box and found the head of Nombe, but his header was only good enough to rattle the bar. Coming in for the follow up was Scott, but he was unable to connect with the ball, instead clattering into a Bolton defender and their keeper resulting in a free kick for Wanderers.
As the second half was set to start, Bolton were the only side to make a change with Declan John replaced by ex-Grecian Randell Williams.
It was a quick start to the second half for the Grecians, after a very direct run from Key the ball was played through to Nombe but his effort at the near post was palmed away by Trafford in the Bolton net.
After Sparkes was bundled over in the corner, City were awarded a free kick, but the short routine to McDonald didn’t pay off and it was only enough for a corner. City were seeing all the ball and having the chances but just could not find the back of the net, but still plenty left play with 60 on the clock.
Being clinical was City’s problem once again, after a marauding run through the middle of the park from Sparkes, his effort on goal was too tame and easily saved by Trafford. With all the pressure from City it was Bolton who had the best effort on goal so far in the second half, with the game in its 65th minute, Williams sent the ball goalward but a fantastic block from Kite sent the ball flying behind for a corner.
Both sides needed changes and a break in play aided that. First off, Bolton brought on Victor Adeboyejo and Dan N’Lundulu for Dion Charles and Elias Kachunga. City also made a change and taking the place of Scott was returning youngster Sonny Cox making his first appearance of 2023.
City players, staff and fans were all up in arms as the game ticked past the 70th minute mark as it seemed that Nombe was wiped out by Wanderers keeper, but the referee seemed to see nothing wrong and waved away all penalty claims. Replays suggest Trafford made contact with the ball. Immediately, Bolton went down the other end and with loads of space on the edge of the area, Adeboyejo was played the ball, but the newly introduced forward could only blaze it over the bar.
Gary made a double change for City, with Pedro Borges and Jake Caprice called upon to replace Jack Sparkes and Harry Kite. With Borges making his league debut for the Grecians after only just returning from his loan spell at Tiverton.
A vintage Caprice run down the left-hand side had everyone in the ground on their feet, after taking on multiple players the wing back was dispossessed before he could let loose on the Bolton goal, however a collective sigh could be heard from the Big Bank as the ball was eventually cleared away.
City: Blackman, Key, Sweeney, Aimson ©, Hartridge, Sparkes (Caprice), Kite (Borges), McDonald, Collins, Scott (Cox), Nombe
Subs not used: Lee, Grounds, Coley, Harper,
Bolton: Trafford, Jones ©, John, Johnston, Sheehan (Thomason), Charles (Adeboyejo), Morley (Williams), Bradley, Dempsey, Kachunga (N’lundulu), Mbete
Subs not used: Williams, Shoretire, Lee,
Referee: Craig Hicks
Attendance: 7530 (961 away)