Bolton lift weight of world from Allardyce's shoulders

Bolton Wanderers 2 Middlesbrough 1
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The Independent Football

Before the match that would decide Bolton Wanderers' fate, Sam Allardyce admitted having had trouble sleeping, although he would not have had much rest last night. Bolton had scheduled their player-of-the-year dinner immediately after this achingly-tense final match of the season and their manager, who was already nursing his first beer of the evening, did not expect an early night.

Before the match that would decide Bolton Wanderers' fate, Sam Allardyce admitted having had trouble sleeping, although he would not have had much rest last night. Bolton had scheduled their player-of-the-year dinner immediately after this achingly-tense final match of the season and their manager, who was already nursing his first beer of the evening, did not expect an early night.

"I am completely drained, emotionally unstable, absolutely delighted and so relieved that the weight of the world appears to have come off my shoulders," said Allardyce afterwards. "I'm floating about six feet off the ground. It's been such a long week; I've been a gorilla around the place and people have been keeping their distance from me."

Survival meant different things to different people at the Reebok Stadium. To Gudni Bergsson, who was last off the pitch, it meant he could retire happy. To Youri Djorkaeff and Jay-Jay Okocha, it meant the offer of new contracts. To the girls who worked for the club, watching feverishly from the press box and who embraced on the final whistle, it meant their jobs were safe and the mortgage would be paid.

Bolton's escape did not possess the romance that West Ham's would have done. A great former player like Nat Lofthouse did not come down to the dugout to replace a stricken manager and there was no lament for a raft of talented home-grown young players who will likely be lost to the club which nurtured them.

While some in the media accused Bolton of undermining the Premiership with a team composed of "foreign mercenaries" on short-term contracts, Bolton actively celebrated the disparity of their squad. At the final whistle, the players did a lap of honour draped in their national flags. There was even a Cross of St George interspersed among the tricolours and the banners of Scandinavia.

Allardyce suggested there would be more arriving in the summer, although not in such numbers. "If we have learned a lesson, it is not to bring in so many players in such a short space of time. It was far too many for them to gel immediately and it took us until the best part of December to produce our best football, both as individuals and as a team."

It is, however, highly unlikely Bolton would have survived without them. In the last weary months of the campaign, they played with panache and ensured Bolton were unbeaten at home for four months. Few Englishmen could have driven a shot from 25 yards past Mark Schwarzer in the way Per Frandsen did and perhaps nobody save David Beckham could have delivered the free-kick that put Bolton two up with the brilliance of Okocha. The Nigerian celebrated by revealing a vest which had "Thank-you Jesus" scrawled on it.

That free-kick, which gave Bolton the emotional security of a two-goal cushion, was his seventh of the season, and they have nearly all been in matches which mattered desperately. Yesterday he unveiled a breathless repertoire of shots and skill and once even managed to bamboozle Juninho.

For a team like Boro, who have managed a grand total of two away wins, there should have been no way back. After the final match of the Third Division season, the Hull manager, Peter Taylor, whose side had lost to Swansea, offered to send a tape to Exeter City, who were relegated because of the result, to prove they had tried. Steve McClaren could make the same offer to West Ham, provided the Boro manager removes the first half from the tape.

Until the interval Middlesbrough were crude and aimless. Jonathan Greening allowed himself to be muscled off the ball for Frandsen's goal and gave away the free-kick that led to Okocha's. Boro's player of the year was substituted at half time with McClaren saying with a smile that he had "a slight calf strain" – shorthand for "playing dreadfully".

Thereafter, Middlesbrough, aided by the returning Michael Ricketts, were far more effective. Juninho finally found a way past Ivan Campo and then, inevitably, Ricketts scored. When news arrived that West Ham were ahead, the Reebok jangled with nerves and Bolton's passing disintegrated. Allardyce abandoned his seat in the directors' box believing "eyeball-to-eyeball" contact was needed. The tension lasted until Rob Styles sent off Franck Queudrue for a lunge on Campo and the realisation swept through the stadium that Birmingham had scored. It was the second time this season Queudrue had been sent off by Styles. Compared to going down with 42 points or losing 15 games in a row, it is not much of a statistic but it made McClaren wince.

Goals: Frandsen (10) 1-0; Okocha (21) 2-0: Ricketts (61) 2-1.

Bolton: (3-1-4-1-1) Jaaskelainen 7; N'Gotty 6, Bergsson 5, Whitlow 5; Campo 6; Mendy 5 (Nolan 5, 72), Frandsen 7, Okocha 9, Gardner 4; Djorkaeff 6 (Charlton, 89); Pedersen 4 (André 5, 65). Substitutes not used: Ballesta, Poole (gk).

Middlesbrough: (4-3-1-2) Schwarzer 6; Parnaby 5, Riggott 5, Southgate 6, Queudrue 4; Wilkshire 4, Boateng 7, Greening 2 (Ricketts 7, h-t); Juninho 6; Christie 4, Maccarone 3 (Doriva 5, h-t). Substitutes not used: Davies, Downing, Doriva, Crossley (gk).

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire) 5.

Sending off: Middlesbrough: Queudrue. Bookings: Bolton: Frandsen, Mendy, N'Gotty. Middlesbrough: Greening.

Man of the match: Okocha.

Attendance: 27,241.

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