Wanderers go marching through

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The Independent Online

Bolton Wanderers are one step away from a return visit to Wembley for a Worthington Cup final, five years after losing there to Liverpool.

Bolton Wanderers are one step away from a return visit to Wembley for a Worthington Cup final, five years after losing there to Liverpool.

Sam Allardyce's side came from behind to beat familiar opponents at the Reebok Stadium, defending their half-time lead doggedly to earn themselves a semi-final against Tranmere.

Wimbledon's annual visit to Bolton in the Worthington Cup -- they have now been drawn here in this competition for the last four seasons-- saw them start last night with a 2-1 lead in matches won.

This year, as much as any, the Worthington Cup gives both clubs their best and probably only chance of achieving anything, with the Dons still in Premiership mid-table despite their recent good run and Bolton well adrift of even the prospects of a First Division play-off place.

Under the circumstances, it was a testing time for the young defender, Dean Holden to make his first start for Bolton on a pitch deemed perfectly playable despite the amount of rain that had fallen on it since last Saturday's FA Cup tie against Cardiff was controversially called off.

With two demoralising defeats in the League in their last two outings, it was still Bolton who showed the early quality, with imaginative passing from Michael Johansen and Claus Jensen. But after 17 minutes the visitors took the lead. The strength of John Hartson was largely responsible as he shrugged off Gudni Bergsson and slid in an angled ball for Carl Cort to score with a low shot that Jussi Jaaskelainen would have been disappointed not to save after getting both hands to the ball.

Cort and Wimbledon could have had a second on the half hour, when the Bolton defence was again caught out down the right, this time by Jason Euell's clever pass. Cort's cross-shot again beat the goalkeeper, but this time came back off the inside of the far post.

Wimbledon's frustration at that narrow miss doubled when Bolton equalised in spectacular fashion three minutes later.

Eidur Gudjohnsen, the subject of bids from Derby County after some eye-catching performances this season, scored surely his most notable goal so far, dribbling past four defenders before stroking the ball past Sullivan.

Unfortunately, the big Icelander's next contribution was to miss an open goal two minutes later after being teed up by Taylor. The pain of that spurned chance was softened almost immediately as Taylor was pulled back by Robbie Earle and Johansen put away the penalty to give Bolton the lead.

Even then they were desperately close to losing it again before half-time when Hartson's header slid just past the post. Bolton also lived dangerously in the second half and Gudjohnsen continued his mixed evening, almost setting up a third Bolton goal but getting himself booked for dissent.

Bolton might have sewn it up before the three-quarter mark, Gardner sending Mike Whitlow away. But the full-back tried to square the ball for Gudjohnsen rather than having a go himself.

Johansen could have crowned his night, but hit the foot of the post with 10 minutes to play. That would have eased Wanderers' nerves considerably, but they hung on to claim their place in the last four.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Holden, Bergsson, Fish, Whitlow; Johansen, Elliott, Jensen, Gardner (Aljofree, 88); Gudjohnsen (Hansen, 86), Taylor (Strong, 80). Substitutes not used: Passi, Banks (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Ardley (Leaburn, 70), Andersen, Cunningham, Kimble; Cort, Earle, Roberts, Euell; Hartson, Gayle. Substitutes not used : Hughes, Waehler, Badir, Davis (gk).

Referee : A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).

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