A CURSE lifted, a club reborn, only one team turned up in the Papa Johns Trophy – and it was Bolton Wanderers who delivered. 

Just as they had done in Wembley’s very first game 100 years ago, the Whites came and conquered. But who could possibly have expected a scoreline like this? 

Kyle Dempsey, Dion Charles, Elias Kachunga and Gethin Jones supplied the goals for a victory that not only exorcised the demons of 2011, it said so much about the Bolton Wanderers of 2023. 

Sharon Brittan hugged her boys in the Royal Box – her status as the Queen of Bolton now undeniable.  

And for Ian Evatt and his brave band of Wanderers, what next? The first knockout trophy win in 34 years, could they possibly come back to Wembley in May and secure Championship football? 

Not a single one of the Bolton players, nor the 34,000 fans that followed them to Wembley would have dreamed of a start as convincing as the one they made. 

Just as Bolton crumbled in the opening exchanges of their previous appearance at this stadium against Stoke City, Plymouth were frozen fast in their tracks as the Whites romped to a 2-0 lead inside the first 10 minutes. 

Dempsey opened the scoring, outjumping his marker James Wilson to head home Declan John’s corner at the far post. 

Fans joined in a minute’s applause for ‘Super’ Ted Waring, the seven-year-old Bolton fan who sadly passed away in the weeks leading up to the final, and no sooner had it calmed, his team paid him the ultimate honour by scoring a stunning second. 

Conor Bradley picked off a loose pass on the right and set off on a charge playing the ball along the line for Elias Kachunga. He slipped a ball inside for Dempsey, who in one fluid motion did the same for Charles, before keeper Callum Burton knew it, the ball was nestling in the back of his net. Cue pandemonium on the east side of Wembley. 

Argyle simply did not know what to do with Bradley’s rampaging down the right, Kachunga’s perfect link-play, nor Dempsey’s non-stop darting between midfield and attack.  

Steven Schumacher tried to shore up things by swapping wing-backs Bali Mumba and Joe Edwards, knowing a third goal would end the game completely. 

Plymouth had a couple of chances to get back into it before half time, Callum Wright spinning past Eoin Toal and dragging a shot wide, danger man Ryan Hardie also prodding a shot at goal from close range that James Trafford somehow managed to deflect with an outstretched foot. 

But Bolton could well have landed a killer blow too. Bradley cut a low cross back to Dempsey which bounced off Dan Scarr’s arm and was scrambled off the line by Burton and Edwards. Had VAR been in operation, there surely would have been a case for a penalty. 

Moments later, Kachunga seemed to nick a shot off the toes of Declan John at the far post, and Charles lifted another decent chance high into the Plymouth fans.  

Frustration began to boil over in the Argyle midfield as Danny Mayor was booked for a naughty challenge on Josh Sheehan, which could have easily have been a red, and Jay Matete walked a fine line with ref Ben Toner – but at half time, Bolton’s players charged with a confident purpose back to the dressing room knowing they had done half the job already. 

Plymouth had to react, a double substitution at the break indicating Schumacher’s unhappiness with the way the game was going. Not three minutes into the restart the camera panned to his face as his side went three down, a man defeated. 

The Devon men only had themselves to blame, losing possession from their own throw on the left. Charles – as he had done all day – was first to the loose ball and suddenly Kachunga was off through the middle, steadying himself with impressive poised before burying a shot past Burton. 

This time Wanderers were able to celebrate in front of their own supporters, and the former Sheffield Wednesday man, whose goal in the semi-final had earned him some redemption, was now fully forgiven. 

Wanderers did not sit back and settle. This team simply does not know how. 

There were heroes in every position on the pitch but was there anyone out there more deserving than Jones for a moment like the fourth goal of the day? 

Morley whipped in the corner and Jones was hungriest to turn it into the net. And as he spun away to celebrate he looked up to the sky and blew a kiss towards his mum, who passed away just over a year ago. 

And still they attacked. Ian Evatt brought off Charles and Dempsey, who had ran themselves to a standstill, adding the experience of Kieran Lee and Cameron Jerome to see the game home. 

And the two subs combined to send Kachunga through on 76 minutes, this time his shot dribbling just wide of the far post.  

Evatt had the luxury of making changes to rest players with Good Friday’s game at Exeter City in mind. For George Thomason, playing at Wembley was a wonderful moment, given his career arc to date and the terrible injury he suffered before Christmas. 

The only thing to put a dampener on a bright day was a horrific challenge by Plymouth sub Sam Cosgrove on Eoin Toal, which forced the Northern Irishman to limp off with what looked a nasty ankle injury. 

Referee Ben Toner had taken a lenient approach with Mayor’s earlier foul on Sheehan – but quite how he did not reach for a red card in this instance is anyone’s guess. 

Argyle’s fans continued their exodus. Their time may come again in the league, where they still top the table. But it will be interesting to see how such a crushing defeat impacts their results from here on in. 

For Wanderers it was simply the perfect day. Ricardo Santos lifted the trophy in front of a sea of white and blue flags, waved by a group of fans who have their club back.