A FORTNIGHT ago Bolton's manager, Colin Todd, was talking of overtaking Sunderland to become First Division champions, now the play-offs are rapidly becoming the height of their ambitions. At this rate that might prove beyond them.
Three points out of 15 has brought about a cold shower of reality and they gained last night's only because Eidur Gudjohnsen got an equaliser with 11 minutes remaining. The Icelander also came off the bench to get an equaliser on Saturday but not many promotion campaigns are built on late escapes.
The impression of carelessness was compounded by the fact that Bolton were two up within 25 minutes against a team who have been falling through the division faster than the value of Miras. Instead of the victory they had every right to expect, however, ultimately they had to be grateful for a draw.
A year ago these two teams were waging unsuccessful attempts to stay in the Premiership, but in the intervening period their perspectives have changed. Bolton had hoped to reinvigorate their promotion push while Barnsley had half an eye on next week's FA Cup quarter-final with Tottenham and the other on clubs at the bottom of the table creeping closer.
Their League campaign has collapsed since December and they arrived at the Reebok having scored in only one of their eight previous games. Few expected them to buck the trend last night and even fewer would have anticipated it after a torrid opening.
Sixteen minutes had passed when Dean Holdsworth laid off a header with such care the words "thump it" could have been attached to it and Scott Sellars duly obliged, volleying past Tony Bullock from 20 yards.
Nine minutes later it was 2-0 when Scott Jones took leave of his senses and brought Michael Johansen down in the area. Holdsworth had given his Danish team-mate the space for his run with a back-heel and, facing the right way for the penalty he was equally precise shooting into the right corner as Bullock dived in the opposite direction.
Barnsley were looking hopeless, but the situation altered radically in the final 10 minutes of the first half. First Craig Hignett left Paul Warhurst floundering with a sharp turn and shot after 35 minutes then Jones curled an exquisite free-kick past Jussi Jaaskelainen from 25 yards.
Barnsley, who had not scored an away goal in 1999, made it 3-2 three minutes after the interval. Per Frandsen's attempt at a clearance was high and caught Sean McClare in the face but while Bolton stopped, expecting the referee to blow his whistle, Hignett exchanged a quick one-two with Clayton Blackmore and drilled a shot into the net via the post.
An unlikely win for the visitors seemed likely until Gudjohnsen came off the bench to grab the equaliser with a fierce shot from the edge of the area.
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Cox, Fish, Warhurst, Whitlow; Johansen, Jensen, Frandsen, Sellars; Holdsworth, Hansen (Gudjohnsen, 61). Substitutes not used: Elliott, Todd.
Barnsley (3-4-1-2): A Bullock; De Zeeuw, Moses, Morgan; Eaden, McClare (Goodman, 50), Tinkler, Jones; Hignett; Dyer, Sheron (Blackmore, 28). Substitutes not used: M Bullock.
Birmingham moved level on points with third-placed Bradford City in the First Division last night with a 1-0 win at Tranmere, Michael Johnson's 46th-minute header claiming all three points.Reuse content