THE last few Bolton fans were being herded out of the DW Stadium when George Johnston stepped out to speak up for a dispirited dressing room on Tuesday night.

Given the big build-up, the game itself had lacked quality, if not high suspense.

And that continued to the bitter end as Nathan Delfouneso’s spot kick cleared the bar into an empty stand, sparking celebratory scenes among the home support. Pointless cup tie, indeed.

Johnston’s own Wigan connections made defeat doubly difficult to take. He had experienced similar joy in helping the Latics secure safety in League One the season before, turning down an offer to return in favour of a move to Bolton when his contract expired at Feyenoord.

“I was looking forward to it so much, I couldn’t wait to get out there on the pitch,” he said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the win, which I would have loved.”

Although Ian Evatt put a brave face on defeat, reminding everyone that league progression was far more important, the disappointment was clear to see on the face of every Bolton player, not least Johnston himself.

“We definitely feel for the fans, we feel we have let them down slightly,” he grimaced.

“To come to their local rivals with such a big following, we just wanted to give them something to cheer about.

“There were moments in the game where we did that. We played some good football but we couldn’t quite find the goal when we needed it.

“Penalties are always the worst way to go out. It was unfortunate we couldn’t get the win in the 90 minutes so it’s a flip of a coin, you can’t blame anyone for missing. You have to be brave to step up.

“I think we could have done a bit more in 90 minutes to push on for that goal but as a team we defended well, we just couldn’t get it over the line.”

Wanderers return to league football this weekend, making a sizeable trip to Cambridge United, a team they got to know well as promotion rivals in League Two last season.

Johnston points out that Bolton remain unbeaten in 90 minutes all season, as his manager had done a few moments earlier, and will realise along with the rest of the players aboard the team coach to the Abbey Stadium that there is plenty to pleased about from the start they have made to the campaign.

“We lost on penalties but not in the 90 minutes,” he said, “and I think we can take positives from that – a clean sheet as well. I think we can go to Cambridge and build on that.

“It is a class group of lads. We will pick ourselves up, back in first day and we’ll be right at it for Saturday.”