HAD they fancied it, Wanderers could have stayed behind in Portugal to play Monaco in the sunshine of Lagos, rather than Longridge in the gray skies of Lancashire.
The French club had asked Ian Evatt’s men if they fancied a friendly kickabout instead of flying back home to the UK on Sunday – but, alas, a promise had already been made.
Twelve months ago, Bolton fans saw their team in action live for the first time after the pandemic, and many were still struggling to recognize the faces they saw win promotion from behind laptop screen and TV sets the season before.
This time the men in white were much more familiar. And they were clearly enjoying themselves, even if they may wonder if they would have learned more about themselves in the Algarve sun.
First-half goals from Kyle Dempsey, Elias Kachunga and Amadou Bakayoko were added to in the second half by a Dion Charles hat-trick and further strikes from George Johnston, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Dapo Afolayan.
Kick off delayed by a few minutes to allow the snaking queues to die down in the car park, it was clear a few folk had seen the clouds were clearing above the Ribble Valley.
And the interest was understandable. This was a pre-season friendly – but there would be no speculation over the identity of trialists, as is the normal way with these games. Barring MJ Williams, who had picked up a slight knock, every fit member of Evatt’s squad was on show at the Recycling Lives Ground.
But for a few late challenges in the first 10 minutes, Wanderers had things virtually their own way for the whole first half.
Jack Iredale started his first game in a Bolton shirt – the new design also making a debut. The Australian played on the left side of the back three and moved the ball sharply, playing a big part in each of the first two goals.
Wanderers looked on point. They had been away for just over a week in Portugal, receiving nearly four times as much contact time in training than they were able to get at this stage last year.
The breakthrough came after 11 minutes, Bakayoko flicking on a fizzing ball from Iredale to send Dempsey in on goal, and though the midfielder did not make great contact with his shot, it was enough to beat former Bolton man James Aspinall.
Perhaps fired up by the one that got away, Aspinall then took up a solo battle with the Bolton front line to avoid a second goal.
He made a smart double save from Kachunga and then Kieran Sadlier, making it a hat-trick moments later when the corner made its way to Dempsey near the penalty spot.
Max Conway looks like he could be the next young homegrown talent to watch at Wanderers, and he nearly stole the show with a rasping left-footed effort – again pushed away by the belligerent Aspinall.
Bolton were getting plenty of joy on the left, and when Iredale picked out a scampering run from Kachunga, his cross was bundled home by Dempsey.
Kieran Lee was making his first appearance since February, barely missing a beat as he knitted things together in midfield. And it was his ball that found Bakayoko for the best goal of the half.
“Baka” has been away with Sierra Leone over the summer and there were no signs of rustiness as he picked his spot from 12 yards out, giving Aspinall absolutely no luck.
Conor Bradley came on as part of the second-half changes, and the Liverpool loanee wasted no time at all ingratiating himself to his new team-mates.
Swarming over the Longridge left-back, he won possession and slid a pass inside for Dion Charles to drill into the bottom corner from the edge of the penalty box.
Moments later, he was racing into the penalty box again, this time on a well-weighted ball from Aaron Morley, sliding a cross in for Charles to finish at the near post.
Johnston plundered home a Morley cross to continue to one-way traffic, when Charles completed his hat-trick after George Thomason had been pushed in the box.
Bodvarsson almost apologetically claimed an eighth after his shot had gone through the keeper’s grasp, and Afolayan completed the rout with a trademark angled drive from the edge of the box.
First half-team: Dixon; Aimson, Santos, Iredale; Sadlier, Tutte, Dempsey, Lee, Conway; Bakayoko, Kachunga.
Second half team: Trafford, Bradley, Jones, Senior, Johnston, John, Morley, Thomason, Afolayan, Charles, Bodvarsson.