DAVID Flitcroft was probably wise to sidestep the usual post-match press conference immediately after Bury were cruelly denied a rightful place in the second round of the Capital One Cup at the Macron Stadium on Tuesday night.
Whether the Shakers manager felt it impossible to summon up the words to describe what he had seen, or more likely that his views were not fit to print, there was little that needed to be said anyway.
The near 2,500-strong army of Bury supporters saw the drama unfold before their eyes, and the questions following an exhilarating 120 minutes of football were universal. All the Bury contingent – manager, players and fans – wanted to know was where did referee Jeremy Simpson get his six minutes of injury time from?
That was Flitcroft’s general line of questioning as he rattled around the tunnel after the final whistle, demanding to see video footage of the match-turning penalty decision that handed Bolton’s Craig Davies a 97th-minute equaliser and ultimately robbed Bury of the chance to progress.
For 96 minutes they looked comfortable, pinning down the home side in the opening stages before going on to protect a deserved lead following Ryan Lowe’s expertly taken opener.
Dark storm clouds were hovering over the Macron as the 35-year-old striker slotted home Andrew Tutte’s inviting centre at the back post in the 20th-minute.
The heavens then opened and looked destined to swallow up a dispirited Wanderers side that had gone into the match with just two players remaining from an opening day humiliation at Watford.
Bury’s first match of their League Two campaign had also been disappointing, and the loss of right-back Craig Jones with a back strain just compounded their problems. But a switch to a 3-4-1-2 system, with Nathan Cameron impressive in defence, Chris Sedgwick slotting into a holding midfield role and Nicky Adams let loose behind the front two seemed to bamboozle Bolton.
Bury had the lion’s share of possession and chances in the opening half and after taking the lead with his first sight at goal, reopening his league account three years after leaving the Shakers, Lowe then went close with another speculative effort that hit the side netting.
Tutte, Danny Nardiello and Adams also missed chances, while Wanderers’ only clear-cut opportunity, falling at the feet of Jermaine Beckford, was charged down by Shwan Jalal.
Sadly, that save was to have serious consequences as the former Bournemouth stopper picked up a groin injury and was forced to make way for Rob Lainton at half time.
For 50 minutes, the switch looked like a real blessing in disguise as Lainton – who started his career at Wanderers – put in an inspired performance.
As Bolton came back into it, the 24-year-old countered their challenge manfully with a string of top class saves, including a flying one-handed stop to deny his close friend David Wheater.
But all of the youngster’s good work was undone with a rush of blood deep in injury time.
Wanderers substitute Davies had his back to goal on the byline as Lainton lunged for the ball with his arm. He seemed to get a touch of the ball, but the referee’s mind was made up as Lainton instantly leapt to his feet to plead his innocence.
Shell-shocked, Bury went on to concede two quick goals at the start of the first period of extra time.
Only six minutes had elapsed by the time Bolton substitute Neil Danns had added another two goals – heading down a corner to the near post that Sedgwick could only turn into his own net, before firing a screamer of a free-kick into the top corner.
Undaunted, Bury captain Jim McNulty headed a goal back a minute later to keep the tie on a knife edge.
But after having two decent penalty claims waved away, there was a sense around the ground that maybe it wasn’t going to be the Shakers’ night.
Flitcroft clearly felt as if the refereeing team had some serious questions to answer, but maybe it was best for his disciplinary record – and his bank balance – that the fuming boss allowed the dust to settle before finally making his views public.
BURY: Jalal 7 (Lainton 7 45); Cameron 8, Mills 8, McNulty 8; Soares 8, Sedgwick 8, Tutte 9, Hussey 7; Adams 9; Lowe 9 (Thompson 7 85), Nardiello 7 (Mayor 7 63).
Subs: O’Brien, Widdowson, Poole.
BOLTON WANDERERS: Bogdan; Threlkeld, Dervite, Wheater, Ream; Feeney, Pratley (Danns, 78), Trotter, Hall (Lee 67), Beckford, Wilkinson (Davies 67).
Subs: Lonergan, White, Spearing, Clough.
Goals: Bolton Wanderers 3 (90+7, 93, 96) Bury 2 (Lowe 20, McNulty 97).
Yellow cards: Bury – Cameron 48, Mills 94.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson.
Attendance: 9,249 (2,448 visiting).
Star man: Nicky Adams – The Bolton-born midfielder did more than any man in a Bury shirt to get them over the line and, like every single one of his team-mates, did not deserve to be on the losing side. He revelled in the free role behind the front two and tested the Wanderers backline throughout the 90 minutes with his tireless running and pin-point delivery, from both set-pieces and open play. He forced Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan into one world class save from a curling free-kick and showed the kind of grit and determination that convinced David Flitcroft to bring him back to the club.