New signing Mekhi McLeod came off the bench to score as FC Halifax Town lost 2-1 to Bolton Wanderers in their latest pre-season friendly at The Shay.
A full-strength Bolton represented a significant step-up in class from Town’s previous two opponents in pre-season, but there were plenty of positives for manager Jamie Fullarton in a closely-fought contest.
Bolton’s pre-season was thrown into chaos when their friendly at St Mirren had to be cancelled last Saturday because the players went on strike after not getting paid.
Their friendly at Morecambe on Tuesday was then cancelled, meaning this was their first warm-up game of the summer, and Bolton boss Phil Parkinson, who guided Bradford to a 2-1 win at The Shay in the first round of the FA Cup in 2014, took the opportunity to field what looked like a full-strength line-up.
Moments after Dayle Southwell had struck Town’s first effort on target, a free-kick that Ben Alnwick tipped behind, Bolton took the lead through Adam Le Fondre.
Alnwick caught the resulting corner and launched the visitors on a counter-attack, and with Town outnumbered, Will Buckley squared it to the unmarked Le Fondre for a tap-in.
Bolton had looked the likelier to score before then, with Sammy Ameobi forcing Shaun Rowley into a smart save at his near post.
Wanderers unsurprisingly were able to get the ball in dangerous areas more often, but a Town defence featuring three trialists was rarely seriously breached.
Aside from building the fitness and familiarity of his squad, the game should be a useful exercise for Fullarton’s side in replicating facing one of the National League big boys, against whom Town could find themselves under pressure high up the pitch, against a strong defence and a team with good movement and cohesion.
That was the case here, but the gap from Championship to Conference wasn’t glaringly obvious.
Josh Staunton and former Bolton youngster Niall Maher provided a solid base in midfield - always available for a pass and rarely straying out of position in-front of the back four - although the likes of Ben Tomlinson, as good as anyone in a blue shirt, Jordan Preston and ex-Bolton youngster Sanmi Odelusi didn’t see enough of the ball for Halifax to make enough of a regular impression going forward.
Southwell was lively, seemed to relish going up against two big centre-halves and got into some dangerous areas with a willing work-rate.
There were more half-chances for Bolton before half-time, but other than catching Town on the break, the Championship side had been contained fairly well.
But Bolton doubled their lead shortly after half-time when the excellent Ameobi swept a ball out to left-back Andrew Taylor, whose cross was met by the giant Ameobi with a close-range header.
A slip by Vela let in Preston on the hour mark, but he fired over from a tight angle before Southwell got a chance 12 yards out from Jacob Hanson’s cross, but it was kept out by the Bolton keeper.
Substitute McLeod halved the deficit with 20 minutes to go, by which point Bolton had changed their entire team in one fell substitution swoop, when he cut in from the left, gliding past his nearest opponents, before blasting a low right-foot shot past the keeper at his near post, capping Town’s best spell of the match.
The pacey Mcleod went close to his second with 10 minutes remaining but his curling right-foot shot from 20 yards went over the bar as Halifax finished the stronger of the two teams.
Halifax: Rowley, Trialist, Trialist, Trialist, Hanson, Maher, Staunton (King 64), Tomlinson, Preston (Trialist 73), Odelusi (McLeof 64), Southwell. Subs not used: Johnson, Sellars, McLeod, King, Kosylo, Trialist.
Scorer: McLeod (69)
Shots on target: 4
Shots off target: 3
Bolton: Alnwick, Little, Taylor, Lowe, Beevers, Vela, Donaldson, Le Fondre, Ameobi, Buckley, Wheater. Subs: Turner, Edwards, Connell, Politic, Hall, Pritchard, Darby, Hobbs, Johnson, Earing, Noone, Oztumer.
Scorers: Le Fondre (18), Ameobi (49)
Shots on target: 9
Shots off target: 7
Referee: G Rhodes
Town man of the match: Ben Tomlinson