YOUNG forward Zach Clough came off the bench to secure a late 1-1 draw as Wanderers kicked off their run of domestic friendlies at Macclesfield last night.
The former youth star clinically rifled home 10 minutes from time to get a much-changed Whites out of a tricky web weaved by the plucky Silkmen on the night.
Wanderers arrived in leafy Cheshire with virtually a full first-team squad for Dougie Freedman to pick from and, understandably, he made a raft of changes having fielded a strong starting XI in the final tour game in Sweden just 48 hours earlier.
Young keeper Ross Fitzsimons, who arrived from Crystal Palace this summer, started between the sticks while it was a youthful back-line with fellow new face Dorian Dervite adding the experience.
The midfield included Medo Kamara and Darren Pratley while Craig Davies had another chance to impress up front with support from youth graduates Georg Iliev and Chris Lester.
It was a bright start but, as is often the case when so many changes are made, there was some disjointedness.
The youngsters handed a chance looked determined from the start – particularly down the right flank as Oscar Threlkeld and Chris Lester linked up well – the latter’s early run causing come concern for the hosts. The pair were involved again soon after when a wonderful sprayed cross-field pass from Josh Vela was neatly flicked into Threlkeld’s path by Lester but the cross evaded Davies in the box.
The first shot in anger came from the unlikely source of Cian Bolger advancing from defence to fire high over the bar.
But the forward line was involved moments later and it was Iliev who had two good chances to open the scoring.
First, he cushioned a right-wing cross before a rash shot was sliced wide. An even better opening came his way moments later when a slide-rule Pratley pass set him clear but a heavy first touch saw the chance squandered.
With Davies hardly getting a kick, and Beckford sat in the stand, it is hardly surprising the summer search for a striker is still a big priority for Freedman.
At the back, however, there had been little to trouble a youthful backline until a rasping drive beat Fitzsimons all ends up only to cannon back off a post that was left reverberating for several seconds.
It came out of the blue for the Silkmen but gave them encouragement and they found a way through to break the deadlock on 22 minutes.
Local lad Chris Holroyd made the most of good fortune as Dervite’s block ricocheted into his path in the box and he comfortably slotted home from 12 yards.
The ex-Crewe man elevated his home-town hero status further with the goal but was withdrawn soon after with a knock.
The Whites toiled to get back into the game despite some promising build-up play in midfield with Vela and Medo looking a decent combination.
But it could have been worse at the midway point had it not been for a fine one-handed stop from Fitzsimons to turn around another decent long-range effort.
The second half, surprisingly, saw just one change from the start with Tom Youngs replacing Iliev.
And they started to play some better football with some quicker exchanges, though the final ball was still lacking.
Some of the senior players who had watched on from the Moss Rose main stand in the first period made their way down to warm up as Yannick Bastos and Clough replaced Lester and Pratley.
As if spurred on by the sight, Davies finally got a shot away on target on 65 minutes but it was low and straight at home stopper Ritchie Branagan – showing safe handling runs in the genes like dad Keith who starred so many times for Wanderers.
As the game moved into the final quarter, there was little for the sizeable following from Bolton to cheer though many would understand the impact of so many changes for a second game in three days.
The heat was a factor, too, but then this is a chance for some of the fringe and younger players to force the manager’s hand and with all due respect, against a Conference Premier side, they will not get many better chances.
Conor Wilkinson and Hayden White replaced Medo and Davies near the end and Wilkinson fed Clough on the edge of the box to fire home his leveller on 80 minutes as the fresh legs from the bench paid off.
Of course, it is all about fitness levels but results and wins – even in pre-season – please fans like the 279 in the 650 at Moss Rose last night and breed confidence.
From Macclesfield to the Macron and a game against Vitesse Arnhem, the Whites have four more domestic friendlies to shake off the summer cobwebs.