Bolton Wanderers. . . .3
IN THE heady moments that followed Bolton's win in their fourth-round replay at Highbury on Wednesday, one memory stands out for John McGinlay.
'We'd been on the pitch celebrating for about 10 minutes,' he said, 'and I was just going up the steps to the dressing-rooms. And waiting to shake my hand at the top was Ian Wright.' This after the Arsenal striker had been injured, come off the pitch an hour earlier, got changed and was ready to go. 'For him to wait for me like that was a hell of a gesture,' McGinlay said. 'I know how disappointed he was because he's like me, he hates losing.'
That's not a side of McGinlay, Bolton's 29-year-old striker, that has been much in evidence lately as his team have gone from one remarkable Cup upset to the next.
From what they learnt in the first game, Bruce Rioch, the Bolton manager, wanted his team to run at Arsenal at pace, sensing their discomfort under this sort of pressure. McGinlay also felt that Arsenal's man-to-man marking had not been that successful - and was thus exploitable - especially in the case of the brilliant young Jason McAteer, who had had much the better of his contest with Martin Keown.
Nine days separated the two matches. In between came a First Division game at home to Watford, which Bolton won 3-1. A particularly good result, McGinlay said, considering the distractions of the Cup.
On Monday, Bolton did some training geared specifically to the Arsenal game. 'We worked on our marking at set pieces,' McGinlay explained. 'We're not a big side, but Arsenal have got some giants. We thought they'd be putting us under pressure at the back from free-kicks and corners, so we concentrated on not giving any away.'
Bolton also made a point of practising with Adidas Tango balls - the type they knew Arsenal would use - rather than the Mitre ball they normally play with. The Adidas ball tends to swerve more in flight, and it takes some getting used to.
Tuesday morning was just a light training session, followed by lunch and the coach journey to their hotel at St Albans. Tuesday night was dinner, no alcohol, a few games of snooker, and bed at 10.30 - not before Charlton's win at Blackburn had registered. 'Seeing that gave us a bit of a spur,' McGinlay said. Wednesday was for relaxation. Read the papers, go for a walk, a sleep in the afternoon or maybe watch the racing from Ascot.
It was a smooth build-up. Just about the only hitch was the coach journey to Highbury which in heavy traffic, and despite a police escort, took nearly two hours and only got them to the ground 50 minutes before the kick-off. Just time for McGinlay to leave his complimentary tickets for his father, who had come down from Scotland, and his father-in-law.
Two things struck McGinlay as he ran out last (always last, for superstitious reasons) for the warm-up. First the quality of the Highbury turf - so much better than Bolton's muddy pitch, and well suited to their passing game. Second, the 4,000 or so Bolton fans who had made the journey south. 'You can't describe how much that means to you,' McGinlay said.
Before the game, Rioch just told the team to go out and do it again - to play football, keep it on the deck, be alert. And by way of aides-memoire Rioch pinned up on the dressing-room walls big charts showing various 'set-plays' and where players should be moving during them.
McGinlay had his instructions, which included picking up Alan Smith at free- kicks and corners. Not, though, at throw-ins, which was what led to Smith scoring for Arsenal after 36 minutes. By then, though, McGinlay had given Bolton the lead, heading in after Arsenal had half-cleared a corner and Phil Brown had knocked the ball back in. 'We were confident before the game, but all of a sudden we had another lift,' McGinlay said.
Even after Arsenal equalised, Bolton never lost their self-belief. 'We've got so much character in this team,' McGinlay said. And when Rioch came on to talk to the players after 90 minutes, he pointed across to the Arsenal team and said: 'Look at them, they're knackered.' Then came extra time, and the goals from McAteer and Andy Walker that sealed victory.
The team made the long journey back to Bolton on Wednesday night, having Thursday off and letting it all sink in. 'The longer you're in the Cup, it stops being a bonus,' McGinlay said. 'It's a bit serious now.' It's certainly looking serious for anyone who comes up against Bolton.
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