Football: This Bolton are built to last

Bolton 2 QPR 1
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The Independent Online
Bolton Wanderers 2 Queen's Park Rangers 1

Bolton will be ensconced in a futuristic new home by the time they return to the Premiership in August. Yet their grounds for believing they can end the mercurial existence of recent years have their foundations in character and style as much as in concrete and steel.

John McGinlay, whose 27th goal of the season ensured promotion and effectively condemned QPR to a second season in the First Division, insisted that the Bolton team who need just a point from Wednesday's derby at Manchester City to win the championship were a different proposition from the one which slid straight back down a year ago.

"We're far better equipped than last time," McGinlay said. "We only got up via the play-offs then whereas this season we've romped it. It's taken great character to come back from the massive disappointment of relegation, but the dressing-room spirit is second to none.

Bolton's previous failure cost the striker a chance to play for Scotland at Euro 96, but with a World Cup looming at the end of next season he remains positive about rejoining the elite. "There's no reason why we shouldn't establish ourselves. Obviously there'll be new blood coming in, and I believe that the new stadium will help when it comes to signing players."

The unnamed, pounds 35m development at Horwich, which will seat 25,000, promises to rival Huddersfield's McAlpine Stadium as the most imaginative example of English football's new architecture. It is unlikely, however, to be conducive to Burnden Park's cockpit atmosphere and may even prove a stimulating venue for away sides.

Fortunately for Bolton, they appear better equipped in terms of personnel and resources to prosper at the higher level. When they went up in 1995 Arsenal promptly took their manager, Bruce Rioch (who, coincidentally, made a tight-lipped return as Stewart Houston's deputy on the visitors' bench).

The next season began amid question marks over the commitment of their best players, Alan Stubbs and Jason McAteer. And there was uncertainty as to which, if any, of the joint managers, Roy McFarland and Colin Todd, was in charge. Not surprisingly it ended in the drop.

Today, though, there is cash in the transfer kitty - from the sale of Stubbs, McAteer and Sasa Curcic - and Bolton expect to raise more from a stock-market flotation. Todd has proved a quietly astute No 1 in his first full season, with the durable Dane, Per Frandsen, an especially judicious buy.

McGinlay was quick to praise Todd's partnership with his coach, the former Wanderers captain Phil Brown, pointing out that Bolton have been effective (only four defeats) as well as attractive (88 goals). His own double act with Nathan Blake has been symptomatic of the unity of purpose, the winner here taking their aggregate for the season to 50.

Rangers and Manchester City, also relegated last May, were rated far better bets to get back up than Bolton, last summer's 14-1 sixth favourites. For a while yesterday Houston's team were indeed superior, highlighting the slack defending which Todd must address. Steve Morrow powered in a vicious debut goal - the 49th Bolton have conceded - and there could have been more.

The way it went then, the Rangers' manager sighed, was the story of their season; the "five-minutes-before-half-time-scenario" in which Chris Fairclough swept in the equaliser after Blake's cross. The period immediately after the interval was to prove even more damaging.

If McGinlay's instinctive finish had something of the Denis Law about it, the move which preceded his rapier thrust underlined the constructive instincts that have made Bolton successful. The title and the Burnden farewell party beckon, after which Todd must begin building to cement a place among the rich and powerful.

Goals: Morrow (14) 0-1; Fairclough (45) 1-1; McGinlay (49) 2-1.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; McAnespie, Fairclough, Taggart, Small; Pollock (Johansen, 67), Frandsen (Sheridan, 85), Thompson, Sellars; McGinlay, Blake (Paatelainen, 88).

Queen's Park Rangers (3-4-2-1): Sommer; Yates, Maddix, Morrow; Impey, Barker (Quashie, 59), Murray, Brevett; Peacock, Spencer; Dichio (Slade, 59). Substitute not used: McDonald.

Referee: G Frankland (Middlesbrough).

Bookings: Bolton: Blake, Taggart. QPR: Morrow, Maddix.

Man of the match: Frandsen. Attendance: 19,198.

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