Bolton bank on quality to prevail

Phil Shaw previews the first-leg games in tomorrow's play-offs
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The Independent Online
The Wanderers of Wolverhampton and Bolton meet in the first leg of their play-off semi-final at a packed Molineux tomorrow, desperate to complete the journey from the Fourth Division wilderness to the Premiership's promised land, but plagued by indifferent form.

Wolves, down to 16 fit players, won just one of their last nine First Division matches. However, Leicester's run-in record a year ago was identical to that of Graham Taylor's team, and they went on to win at Wembley. For Bolton, meanwhile, the goals dried up damagingly after their Coca-Cola Cup final defeat.

But in Stubbs, McAteer, McGinlay and Paatelainen, Bruce Rioch's side may have the quality to prevail, especially with the home leg to come on Wednesday. Wolves were battered 5-1 at Burnden Park in February, and have shown no significant improvement in defence.

The victors face the division's runners-up, Reading, or Tranmere, who are out of sorts but have two years' play-off experience behind them. John King, the Tranmere manager, said yesterday: "These games are the closest you get to a major cup semi-final. It always comes down to who holds their nerve better."

Huddersfield and Brentford, frustrated by Birmingham's championship win, must put end-of-term blues behind them in their Second Division semi-final. In the Third, Chesterfield play Mansfield, perhaps reflecting on the iniquity of a system that pits them against neighbours who finished 16 points adrift, while Preston and Bury stage a derby with echoes of the Victorian era.

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