An injury-time winner from the late substitute Stelios Giannakopoulos belatedly gave Bolton Wanderers' lowest-ever Premier League crowd something to warm them on a freezing and frustrating evening at the Reebok Stadium last night.
The Greek midfielder, generally out of favour since the arrival of Gary Megson as Bolton manager, had not scored in the league for almost two years, but he showed he had a good memory when he chased a long kick from Jussi Jaaskelainen for the ultimate route one goal.
Derby County's stand-in goalkeeper Lewis Price seemed uncertain whether to come out or not and was stranded as Giannakopoulos chipped the ball over him and headed into an empty net. It was a goal that represented redemption for Bolton on a night when they seemed determined not to win and one which does wonders for their chances of avoiding joining Derby in the Premier League's departure lounge.
Giannakopoulos was so happy about his rare goal that he even kissed the referee, Howard Webb, which was overdoing it slightly, but there was no mistaking the relief Bolton felt after failing to score until time added on to a second half they had dominated.
"It's difficult to say we deserved it, because we've played poorly and passed poorly for most of the game," Megson said. "It could be the first time we've been fortunate."
His Derby counterpart, Paul Jewell, refused to blame luck, good or bad, for a defeat that moves County closer to the trap door. "We're not at the bottom of the league because we're unlucky," he said. "We've conceded late goals in five matches. If it wasn't so serious, it would be hilarious."
Jewell blamed the winner on his back four's failure to move up in a line and the disputes between goalkeeper and defenders carried on after the final whistle, he admitted. "Words were spoken in the dressing room. I'd be disappointed if they weren't."
Derby, who have improved their performances if not their results under Jewell, provided their share of what little football was played in the first half. They had a particularly good spell before half-time when Craig Fagan had a header tipped over by Jaaskelainen and Michael Johnson hit the bar with a long-range shot.
For Bolton, Nicolas Anelka, whose comments to a French paper made it as clear as could be, short of arriving at the Reebok with a packed suitcase, that he is destined to move on this month, had one of his quieter games, though he did set up a volley for Kevin Nolan.
El Hadji Diouf, cutting in from the right, had Bolton's best chance, but a reshuffle at half-time that brought on Christian Wilhelmsson and switched them to 4-2-4 gave them a different, more threatening shape.
Danny Guthrie blasted over from right in front before Diouf had the ball in the net from marginally offside, and Anelka also hit the bar. Nolan then thought that Anelka had given him what could have been a suitable parting gift by teeing him up for an open goal from four yards out. Nolan somehow scooped over the bar and, if he was relieved that there had already been an offside flag, there were still jeers when he was substituted with Giannakopoulos nine minutes from time. Few of those doing the jeering could have guessed the impact his replacement was destined to have.
As for another man he might have to replace, Megson was philosophical about Anelka. "I'm not aware of Chelsea or any other club making contact," he said. "I've seen what Nicolas has said to L'Equipe and he's saying he's happy to stay if nothing happens. I was really pleased with Nicolas, he worked really hard."
Goal: Giannakopoulos (90) 1-0.
Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; J O'Brien, A O'Brien, Meite, Gardner; Campo; Davies (Wilhelmsson, h-t), Nolan (Giannakopoulos, 81), Guthrie, Diouf; Anelka. Substitutes not used: Al Habsi (gk), Samuel, Michalik.
Derby County (4-4-2): Price; Mears, Davis, Moore, McEveley (Johnson, 21); Teale (Macken, 64), Barnes, Oakley, Lewis; Fagan (Feilhaber, 85), Miller. Substitutes not used: Hinchliffe (gk), Holmes.
Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).
Booked: Bolton Davis, A O'Brien; Derby Fagan, Mears, Feilhaber.
Man of the match: Campo.
Attendance: 17,014.Reuse content