Spurs extinguish Bolton's flickering fire

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The Independent Online
Bolton Wanderers 2 Tottenham Hotspur 3

Bolton are, in all probability, on their way out of the Premiership, but they at least have the virtue of being unwilling to go quietly. With three away wins in the previous four matches, another victory last night could have lifted them from the bottom spot they have made their own since the end of November.

Although they ruined any realistic hope of that by conceding two Identikit goals early in the second half to trail 3-0, Bolton showed that there is considerable fight left in them by scoring twice to stage a thrilling, if ultimately futile, finish.

Bolton were subsiding to a defeat as comprehensive, if not as embarrassing, as the 6-0 thrashing by Manchester United when Alan Stubbs, the scorer of both of their crucial goals at Coventry on Saturday, again demonstrated his knack of finding the net from the edge of the area.

That triggered a hectic last phase, especially after Scott Sellars met Sasa Curcic's left-wing cross with a stooping header to claim Bolton's second goal with seven minutes left.

A header from Gudni Bergsson, cleared off the line by Clive Wilson, could have brought them level. Bolton's plight remains so dire that even that draw would not have been enough to sustain the momentum of their recent thrust towards safety, but it would have been a reward for a new-found defiance.

Bolton could consider themselves unlucky to be behind at the interval, having had the better of a scrappy first half.

With their danger man Curcic rigorously man-marked by Sol Campbell, their clear-cut chances were infrequent and only two appeals for penalties and Sellars's swerving shot past the post caused Tottenham any great alarm.

A relatively rare Tottenham raid produced their goal, David Howells running from deep and carrying on to meet Ruel Fox's return ball and beat Aidan Davison, who was playing his first game of the season because of Keith Branagan's injury.

Where Bolton lost the game was in conceding two quick goals through ponderous defence on their left flank. Fox's speed outstripped them on the first occasion to leave Davison stranded, and when Chris Armstrong went down the same route with the same result Bolton could have been on their way to another heavy home defeat.

Stubbs was realistic about the impossibility of the job they had set themselves to overturn that deficit last night. "You can't give a team a 3-0 lead and expect to come back," he said.

It says much for Bolton's spirit, if not for their survival prospects, that they almost did.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Davison; Bergsson, Coleman, Fairclough, Phillips; Stubbs; Green (De Freitas, 77), Curcic, Sellars, Paatelainen (Thompson, h-t); Blake (McGinlay, h-t).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Austin, Calderwood (Edinburgh, h-t), Mabbutt, Wilson; Fox (Slade, 78), Howells, Dozzell, Campbell; Armstrong, Sheringham. Substitute not used: Thorstvedt (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).