YOUNG striker Georg Iliev scored twice as Wanderers Under-21s narrowly lost 3-2 to Everton at the Reebok Stadium tonight – but the result was immaterial as the biggest blow was yet another injury worry for Stuart Holden.
The US international was playing his first game of the season after seven months out with a cruciate ligament injury to his right knee.
But his long-awaited return came to a premature end just 23 minutes in after collapsing clutching the back of that same knee.
Holden’s return was meant to be the good news story of the night but he did not look comfortable early on as he started to hold his thigh and then the back of his right knee after a simple pass out wide.
And when he collapsed with no-one near him on 23 minutes, the inevitable early exit happened – much to his obvious distress.
In his absence, his youthful team-mates did their best to cheer up a sizeable crowd who had come to see the American’s comeback.
Wanderers fell behind just two minutes after Holden’s early exit when Rob Holding hauled down Courtney Duffus in the box and Luke Garbutt confidently stroked home the resulting penalty.
Six minutes before half-time, however, in-form Iliev levelled matters, profiting from a defensive mix-up between Ibou Touray and keeper Mason Springthorpe to hammer into an empty net.
After the interval, Wanderers took the lead for the first time when the lively Rob Hall’s angled shot from the left was parried out by Springthorpe and Iliev reacted quickest on 52 minutes.
It was 2-2, though, within two minutes when Matthew Kennedy tapped in on the goal line after Hallum Hope’s cross squirmed through Whites stopper Arran Lee-Barrett at the near post.
Incredibly, just 60 seconds later, Jamie Fullarton’s hosts could have gone in front again when Hall was taken down in the area by Matthew Pennington but Josh Vela saw his low effort into the corner saved at full-stretch to his left by Springthorpe.
A share of the spoils looked on for the Whites until Conor McAleny’s superb strike on 63 minutes gave the Toffees side coached by former Wanderer Alan Stubbs all three points.
More worrying than the result for the Whites, however, will be the condition of Holden.
BWFC U21s: Lee-Barrett, White, Threlkeld, Holding, Kellett, Hall, Vela, Holden, Lester, Iliev, Clough. Subs: Woodland 23 (Holden), Knight 82 (Clough), Walker 85 (Lester). Not used:- Maher, Campbell.