Bolton bolt back from the brink

COCA-COLA CUP SEMI-FINALS: Palace passion for Wembley final is unfulfilled while McGinlay caps late flurry to floor Swindon
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The Independent Online

Bolton Wanderers 3

Swindon Town 1

(Bolton win 4-3 on aggregate)

The wintry storms that raged around Lancashire yesterday stayed their hand until the last 30 minutes last night before inflicting their worst on Swindon Town. Except it was not the weather that rained down on them, it was Bolton Wanderers.

A thrilling comeback by the home side, climaxed by a goal from John McGinlay three minutes from time, broke Swindon after they had every reason to believe they had made it to the Coca-Cola Cup final on 2 April. Instead it will be Bolton playing Liverpool at Wembley.

Already leading 2-1 from the semi-final first leg at the County Ground, Swindon appeared to have settled the all First Division tie when Jan ge Fjrtoft extended the aggregate advantage to two goals after 58 minutes.

The turning point proved to be Bolton's introduction of Richard Sneekes and Mixu Paatelainen as substitutes. Suddenly an attack that had foundered was set free again with devastating effect.

Bolton's first goal arrived within two minutes, Alan Thompson cutting in from the right with a sudden, decisive dash before thumping the shot against the far post. The ball cannoned back and Jason McAteer, scored from the rebound.

Swindon sagged, Bolton charged forward and Paatelainen brought the tie level with a shot from 25 yards after 76 minutes that flew past Fraser Digby.

Sneekes hit a 25-yard free-kick that Digby performed wonders to stop; Thompson had another shot that flew just wide; the pressure multiplied on Swindon and they finally succumbed.

Thompson took a free-kick, Sneekes got a touch and McGinlay, showing icy composure, controlled, provoked Digby to hesitate with a dummy and then pushed the ball in from seven yards.

Earlier Swindon had ridden the early Bolton aggression that reached its zenith when David Lee hit the crossbar after 30 minutes and appeared to have assumed control. Fjrtoft was denied by Keith Branagan either side of half-time but the decisive moment seemed to have arrived when the Norwegian scored. Joey Beauchamp took a corner on the right that was met by Kevin Horlock at the near post and then turned in by Fjrtoft.

"A lot of hearts were in mouths when they scored," Bruch Rioch, the Bolton manager, said as he contemplated his club's biggest match since the 1958 FA Cup Final. "If we had scored three goals earlier on it would have been easier to take in. Instead it was a shock. I've never seen a dressing room so quiet.''

At the end, Rioch and his Swindon counterpart, Steve McMahon, embraced while the players wandered around in various stages of delight and despair. Right on cue, the snow began to come down in blizzard proportions; the visitors must have thought the sky was falling in.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Green, Seagraves, Stubbs, Phillips; Lee (Sneekes, 61), McAteer, Patterson, Thompson; McGinlay, Coyle (Paatelainen, 61). Substitute not used: Davison (gk).

Swindon Town (4-4-2): Digby; O'Sullivan (Hooper, 88), Viveash, Taylor, Murray; Beauchamp, Nijholt, Horlock, Gooden; Thorne, Fjrtoft. Substitutes not used: Ling, Hammond (gk).

Referee: I Cruikshanks (Hartlepool).