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Reebok Stadium | 3rd March 2014 19:00

Bolton Wanderers U21s v Everton U21s

Conor McAleny scored a superb second-half winner as Everton Under-21s edged a five-goal thriller at the Reebok Stadium.

The striker netted his first goal since returning from a broken leg to help Alan Stubbs’ side end a seven-match winless streak in the league.

Luke Garbutt’s penalty had put the Blues ahead midway through the opening period but Georg Iliev turned the game around with a brace either side of half-time.

Everton then launched a comeback of their own, with Matthew Kennedy making the score 2-2 a minute later, before goalkeeper Mason Springthorpe produced a fine penalty save from Bolton's Josh Vela.

And it proved to be a key moment of the contest, as McAleny fired Everton to a potentially pivotal win in the 64th minute.  

It was an evenly-contested first half, which was reflected in the 1-1 scoreline at the interval.

Bolton started the quickest of the teams but Everton soon got a foot in the game and started to pass the ball around with purpose.

Hallam Hope cut in from the right and tested home goalkeeper Arran Lee-Barrett before Kennedy on the opposite flank dragged an effort from the edge of the box just past the post.

A sizeable crowd had turned out to watch American international Stuart Holden, who was making his first appearance since injuring his anterior cruciate ligament on international duty last July.

But the midfielder’s comeback lasted just 23 minutes as he left the field prematurely after clutching his troublesome right knee.

And it didn't take long for Everton to rub salt into Bolton's wounds, the Blues taking the lead after Courtney Duffus was fouled inside the box by Rob Holding.

It fell to Garbutt to take responsibility, and the left-back stepped up to plant his penalty low into the bottom corner, sending Lee-Barrett diving in the opposite direction.

Behind, the hosts immediately looked to get back on level terms and almost did so when Zach Clough was denied by the woodwork.

But Iliev, who had netted a hat-trick in Wanderers’ last outing at Tottenham, was then offered an unmissable opportunity to make it 1-1.

A ball into the box seemed to provide little danger for Everton, but a mix-up between Springthorpe and Touray allowed the Bulgarian to tap home into an empty net.

Iliev was again on target at the start of the second half as he made it 2-1 to the home side and, in the process, started a frenzy of three goals and a penalty save all within the space of 12 minutes.

The Bolton centre-forward converted with a tidy finish after Springthorpe had done well to beat away Rob Hall’s drive from an acute angle. But Everton were in no mood to be bullied and hit back straight away when the impressive Kennedy found himself in the right place to bundle Hope’s cross over the line from a couple of yards out.

The home side were then awarded a penalty as Matthew Pennington was punished for a challenge on Hall inside the box.

Vela stepped up – but Springthorpe read the midfielder’s effort brilliantly and threw himself full stretch to his left to tip the ball around the post.

Next came a goal fit to win any game – a splendid 25-yard curling effort from McAleny which ultimately secured the 3-2 victory.

The striker collected possession outside the box and bent an inch-perfect right-foot shot into the top corner.

Predictably, Bolton pushed hard to salvage something from the game, but they met a resilient Everton rearguard that refused to concede a third goal.

Hall did strike the bar in the closing stages, but the Toffees held on for three hard-earned and well-deserved points.

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