Sam Allardyce, Bolton's manager, must keep his summer team-building plans on hold until the club's Premiership safety has been assured.
Tuesday night's 3-0 defeat at Fulham means the Lancashire side still need a win to ensure survival. Even if they do not manage it, relegation is still a mathematical improbability given that Ipswich need to collect an unlikely seven points from their last three games, starting last night at Middlesbrough, followed by matches against Manchester United and Liverpool.
But Allardyce refuses to tempt fate by opening discussions with his out-of-contract attackers, Youri Djorkaeff and Fredi Bobic. "We are not planning anything yet," he said. "There will be no talks on Djorkaeff or Bobic until we know definitely what is happening next season. Really, I should be sitting back smiling and planning my holidays now, but instead the nerves are jangling again."
After starting brightly, Bolton lost their way at Craven Cottage after Bjarne Goldbaek had put the home side in front with his first goal of the season three minutes from the interval. Bolton's goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen appeared unsighted as the former Chelsea man's volley bounced through a crowd of bodies.
But there was little the Finnish stopper could do about Steve Marlet's brilliant second, a delightful curling shot into the top left-hand corner after the striker had seized on Bruno N'Gotty's weak clearance. Barry Hayles sealed the win – and safety for Fulham – by smashing home a third, leaving Allardyce unhappy with the referee, Paul Durkin, who waved away a penalty appeal when Kevin Nolan tumbled under the challenge of Sylvain Legwinski when the score was still 0-0.
Bolton face title-chasing Arsenal at the Reebok Stadium on Monday in a crucial game, while Fulham embark on their final two games against Leicester and Blackburn knowing they will be temporarily taking top-flight football back to Loftus Road next year while Craven Cottage is being rebuilt.
Fulham's assistant-manager, Christian Damiano, considers it a successful year, even though pre-season predictions of a top-six spot have not been fulfilled. "The English championship is the best in the world and Fulham had not been in it for 33 years," he said. "It was presumptuous of people to say we would get into the top six because the whole season has been a discovery for us."
An Intertoto Cup place is still possible, but a short summer break would hardly be the ideal preparation for a new Premiership campaign. After the club recorded a British record annual loss of £23.3m, Damiano can hardly complain.
"I am not in a position to speak about the financial side but I do know you need a big squad to compete with the top clubs," he said. "We have stayed in the Premier League and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, so it has been quite a good season."Reuse content