Football: Wolves give up the chase

Bolton Wanderers 3 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
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Burnden Park rang out to the sound of dropped aspirations. There will no First Division title coming to Wolverhampton this year and, as far as Mark McGhee was concerned, everyone else might as well give it to Bolton as well.

"They are the best team in the division by far," the visiting manager said. "On that form no one can touch them and we're all now chasing the next five places behind." Yes, they were Wolves in sheepish clothing.

All of which was a comprehensive endorsement from a club who began the season with high hopes of winning the First Division and who arrived in Bolton in fourth place. But then some wins inflict an inferiority complex on a team, and after this most of the Wolves players will be seeking ego- massaging therapy.

A few will be nursing physical as well as mental bruises, too, because Bolton not only won the match but they also shaded the physical battle. "We knew we had the skill," Colin Todd, the home manager, said, "but today we showed our steel as well".

That glinted in the Lancashire gloom as early as the fifth minute when a brawl broke out that involved everyone except Bryan Small, who had the eminent good sense to take a ringside seat. Usually these things are more posture than punch but this was an exception and more blows were landed than in an average bill in Las Vegas.

"One player started it and he knows who it is," Wolves' Iwan Roberts said, and although eye-witness reports can be misleading, most of them mentioned John Sheridan. The poor referee, who was still busy defusing a penalty claim from Nathan Blake at the time, did not have an earthly of knowing who had done what in the ensuing melee and, short of reducing the match to two-a-side, all he could do was pull the captains aside and tell them to cool it.

The point had been made, however. Wolves may be a team of leviathans but Bolton had let them know they had no intention of letting size become the predominant issue. And once it became a matter of skill, the outcome was obvious. Wolves' size and athleticism brought them just two shots from Don Goodman (one against the bar) but only after the result was beyond doubt; Bolton might have doubled their score.

Their first goal alone was worth the admission fee. Gerry Taggart, a massive influence in more ways than one, beat two players in his own half before Blake held the ball up on the left touchline for just long enough to allow Small to shoot down the flank like an arrow. You could have made a case that Blake's pass was perfect but Small's cross brooked no argument, hit first time straight to the head of John McGinlay. From 12 yards the ball arced into the top corner.

"We took a gamble with McGinlay," Todd said. "He's had a calf injury but I spoke to him yesterday and told him 'I need you out there'. It was a psychological thing because he's been such a thorn in Wolves' side before. He had an injection before the match and at half-time to be able to play. He sums up the spirit at the club."

From that point, with Jamie Pollock winning every tackle and Sheridan and Scott Sellars giving a master class in distribution, it was merely a question of how heavy the defeat would be. Keith Curle helped things on with a volley into his own net and Blake completed a near rout with a thunderous shot into a corner after McGinlay's pass had set him free.

"It was a big, big game for us," McGhee said, "and our chances of winning the League have probably gone. The difference between the sides is that they can compete and still play while we could only compete. At that tempo anyway."

A lot of teams are discovering that and with Bolton nine points clear at the top it is difficult to argue with McGhee's assessment that the destination of the title is pre-ordained. Then, as Wanderers found out last time, the hard work begins.

Goals: McGinlay (21) 1-0; Curle (og, 58) 2-0; Blake (62) 3-0.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Ward; Bergsson, Fairclough, Taggart, Small; Lee, Pollock, Sheridan, Sellars; McGinlay (Green, 81), Blake. Substitutes not used: Johansen, Coleman.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Stowell; Smith, Richards, Curle, Venus; Emblen (Goodman, 69), Osborn (Atkins, 70), Thomas (Thompson, 70), Froggatt; Bull, Roberts.

Referee: D Allison (Lancaster). Bookings: Bolton Taggart; Wolves Smith, Bull.

Man of the match: Pollock. Attendance: 18,980.