Football: Bold Bolton turn the heat on Everton

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The Independent Online
Bolton Wanderers 5

Blake 7, Fish 20, Phillips 30, Thompson 70, Holdsworth 79

Crystal Palace 2

Gordon 8, Bent 16

Attendance: 24,449

MANAGERLESS Crystal Palace nevertheless managed to make Bolton pull hard for safety at the Reebok Stadium yesterday. But the pull of continued tenancy of the Premiership, with its glamour and riches, is a magnetism that defies leaden limbs and tired spirits. By overcoming both, Bolton placed the relegation pressure fiercely on Everton in their match at Highbury today.

If Bolton could have chosen a team in the perfect situation and the depressed mood to capitulate, in theory it would have been Palace, a club in farcical chaos and already bound for relegation.

Atillio Lombardo had been manager until Wednesday when he turned on his television to discover that the chairman, Ron Noades, and absent coach, Ray Lewington, had replaced him.

Because of a knee operation, Lewington had not been at a training session for three months. So in reality Brian Sparrow chose the team. Anyone selected seemed on a hiding to nothing, and that, misleadingly, was how it seemed when, in the sixth minute, Paul Warhurst was dismissively brushed aside by Nathan Blake, who went on to beat Kevin Miller and play magnificently all match long.

If that appeared to put Palace on the run, Bolton were stopped in their tracks only a couple of minutes later when Sasa Curcic drifted through their defence. The ball broke to Dean Gordon, who smashed in a huge shot even by the standards of several others.

Committed to attack, Bolton were risking a lot from Palace's breakaways. So, after 15 minutes, it was not altogether surprising when Marcus Bent, unmarked, hammered in a drive over Keith Branagan from well outside the penalty area. Five minutes on and Bolton had hauled themselves back. Alan Thompson lifted the ball into the penalty area after a short corner and Mark Fish headed the equaliser.

This was no day, nor was there time, for studied defence. When Jimmy Phillips cut in on the left, Palace's retreat was haphazard. Phillips offered the ball to Per Frandsen, who had his back to goal but turned instantly and played a return for Phillips to smack in a fine goal.

Everything pointed to more goals tumbling out of this frenetic game but Palace's back four steadied themselves while Bolton's back three found Lombardo an increasing irritant as he slipped smoothly from midfield to attack. But once Frandsen had tackled Lombardo so determinedly that the Italian later gave up the match, the outcome became more predictable. Even so, it took another superb long-range shot to take Bolton into the safety zone both on the day and in the division.

This time Frandsen touched a free-kick to Thompson whose drive left Miller stretching hopelessly.

Meanwhile, Dean Holds-worth had replaced the gallant Bob Taylor whose services on loan from the First Division club West Bromwich Albion have been so valuable. And it was Holdsworth, Bolton's record pounds 3.5m signing, who put the result beyond debate when he met a perfectly placed low cross from Thompson and side-footed the fifth.

Colin Todd, bemoaning the fact that "the one thing that has been lacking this season is continuity", said that the result confirmed his view that Bolton were "in a rich vein of form". But he had to add: "Let's hope it hasn't come too late."

In the end Palace's surprising defiance ebbed, Val Ismael was sent off for clattering into Blake, and the crowd cruelly, delightedly chanted "are you watching Everton?"

Bolton will certainly be watching them today.

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