Football: Darby lifts Bolton to second place


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The Independent Online

Bolton Wanderers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Stoke City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

After a season of cup heroics and the long-range pursuit of an automatic promotion place, Bolton's fate is finally in their own hands. Not even the news of the late equaliser by Port Vale at Exeter could change the fact that they now only need to defeat Preston at home on Saturday to go up without resort to the play-offs.

They beat the already crowned champions last night by virtue of a goal after six minutes by Julian Darby, filling in for the injured Andy Walker, and rarely can a goal have been greeted with such unanimous delight by two sets of rival supporters.

For Bolton, it brought the prospect of First Division football close enough to reach out and touch. Stoke fans, in a party mood to match, for colour and euphoria if not numbers, the one at Old Trafford the previous evening, also hailed it as good news. To a Potteries purist, after all, it was not so much a goal against safely promoted Stoke as one against Vale.

No matter either that it stemmed from a Stoke mistake, Nigel Gleghorn, losing the ball to Tony Kelly on the edge of his area. The former Stoke player, always capable of a telling pass, prodded the ball into the path of Darby, who took his time before scoring with a firm shot into Peter Fox's far corner.

Any theory that Stoke might lie down to spite their neighbours was undermined by their response. The neat, controlled football which has won them the championship produced stinging shots from Mark Stein and David Hockaday, which were blocked by Alan Stubbs, and one from David Regis which slid past a post.

Bolton's biggest League crowd of the season saw their side resume control after that. With rare harmony, both choirs of fans sang 'We are going up'. Jason McAteer, who with David Lee always threatened the Stoke defence, had two good chances, one pushed too close to Fox and the other headed wide, while Kelly hit a post with a free-kick.

That left Bolton with some fraught moments to survive, notably when Kevin Russell's cross almost fell for Ian Cranson in injury time. But the whistle left them in control of their own destiny, and deservedly so.

Bolton Wanderers: Branagan; Brown, Burke, Lee, Seagraves, Stubbs, Kelly, McAteer, Darby (Green, 79), McGinlay, Patterson. Substitute not used: Winstanley.

Stoke City: Fox; Buckler, Sandford, Cranson, Overson, Gleghorn, Foley, Kevan, Stein, Regis (Russell, 73), Hockaday. Substitute not used: Shaw.

Referee: K Lupton (Stockton).