Academy of Football graduate Oladapo Afolayan – one of four West Ham United loanees to feature for their respective clubs – took a giant step towards promotion from League Two this weekend.
The 24-year-old had been involved in 13 wins in the 18 games he had played for Bolton prior to Saturday, but faced his biggest test yet as the third-placed Trotters travelled to fourth-placed Morecambe with just a point’s difference between the two teams then.
With three teams claiming automatic promotion from League Two and four games of the season remaining, both Bolton and Morecambe were aware that Saturday’s result could have a significant baring on the outcome of their respective seasons.
It was perhaps understandable, therefore, that the game at the Mazuma Stadium got off to a cagey start, with Afolayan having the best shooting opportunity as he curled narrowly wide from Alex Baptiste’s lay-off.
The West Ham loanee was then involved in an incident which made his side’s task easier; having skipped past two challenges, the forward appeared to have his foot stamped on by Kelvin Mellor, who was immediately given his marching orders by the referee.
Shortly before half-time, Afolayan was yellow carded following an altercation with Morecambe boss Derek Adams, before Bolton took a priceless lead in the third minute of injury time courtesy of Ben Jackson’s sweetly struck low finish.
Afolayan was withdrawn by manager Ian Evatt at half-time, but saw his team take full advantage of their greater numbers by dominating possession in the second half, closing out a pivotal 1-0 win.
Bolton now require just win one out of their final two games – against Exeter and Crawley – to seal automatic promotion to League One.
Also chasing promotion from League Two were Olatunji Akinola and Leyton Orient, who suffered a significant setback in that quest with a 2-1 defeat at Southend United on Saturday.
The Shrimpers themselves had plenty to play for, sitting in 23rd place and on the very verge of having relegation confirmed – and therefore aware that only three points would maintain their 101-year-old Football League status.
The game started quietly with Akinola and the Orient defenders well-drilled, but began to create opportunities as the first half wore on, only to be hit by a sucker punch before half-time as Tyler Cordner headed home Ricky Holmes’ corner.
A crisp low strike on the stroke of half-time from Louis Dennis brought Orient level, but despite having several chances, Southend struck late on through Matt Rush who – having held off Akinola – slotted low past Lawrence Vigouroux to plunder an unlikely winner.
Orient are now eleventh in League Two and, with only two games left of their season to go, sit five points adrift of the play-off places.
In Super League Greece, Xande Silva played the final 30 minutes of Aris Thessaloniki FC’s 1-1 draw away at Asteras, a result which keeps them on course for Europa Conference League qualification.
With his team drawing 0-0, the Portuguese forward made a run out to the left wing which drew a defender away and – after a subsequent, sharp passing move from his team-mates – led to Daniel Mancini stabbing Aris into the lead.
Sadly, however, they could not hold onto that advantage, with Lindsay Rose slicing a low ball into his own net with just under ten minutes left on the clock, but the point sees Aris remain second in the league, three clear of fourth-placed AEK Athens with four games to go.
Midfielder Alfie Lewis once again made a late appearance from the bench for St Patrick’s Athletic as they maintained their top-of-the-table standing in the League of Ireland Premier Division, featuring for the last 20 minutes of a 2-0 win away at Finn Harps.
Young defender Aji Alese did not come off the bench for Cambridge United as they suffered a damaging 1-0 defeat at home to Stevenage on Saturday, placing Cheltenham Town in the box seat for the League Two title.
And Gonçalo Cardoso was an unused substitute for FC Basel as the 20-time Swiss national champions drew 3-3 at fellow European hopefuls Lausanne – a result which keeps his team in second in the Swiss Super League on goal difference.
The highest-finishing three teams in Switzerland’s top tier qualify for European football, and with just a point between Basel in second and Lugano in fourth, there remains all to play for in the final five games of the season.