Wanderers finally rest in peace

Bolton Wanderers 0 Southampton 1 Le Tissier 26 Attendance: 18,7 95
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The Independent Online
The longest death-bed scene outside Victorian melodrama finally ended yesterday when Bolton Wanderers breathed their Premiership last with a performance that was honest, brave but fatally undermined by anxiety- induced error. But the inevitable had already been delayed much longer than anyone at Burnden Park had a right to expect, and, as it turned out, even if Bolton had won, the victories gained by Manchester City and Coventry City would have rendered their efforts meaningless.

Southampton could have been forgiven for thinking that three points would have all but ensured their own survival, but events at Villa Park and Selhurst Park mean that they may still have it all to do when they meet Wimbledon at The Dell next Sunday. If they can play the way they did in their last home match - the 3-0 win over Manchester United - they ought to be safe. But another stressful week is guaranteed.

While Bolton virtually delivered victory on a plate and wasted some excellent chances, Southampton rode their luck and stuck to the basics. They always seemed to have a bit more nous than their spirited but feckless opponents. Colin Todd, the Bolton manager, was deeply disappointed. "Our supporters have been a credit," he said. "For the players to let them down like that was really bad."

The truth is, though, that in an era when resources count for almost everything, Bolton's unsuitability for life at the highest level was clear from the moment they won promotion from the First Division a year ago. A quick return to the Premiership, of course, should not be ruled out, and their move to a new stadium, scheduled for the start of the 1997-98 season, may well have a catalytic effect.

While the 3,000 Southampton fans gave their men an ecstatic welcome and a mood of cheerful resignation was detectable in the home contingent, matters were rather more tense on the pitch. Gordon Watson of Southampton and Jimmy Phillips of Bolton had both suffered the embarrassment of miskicking completely when, with 17 minutes gone, Bolton denied themselves the lead as a result of a brainstorm on the part of their centre-half, Gudni Bergsson.

Alan Thompson swung over a corner and Simon Coleman met it with a thunderous header which had the beating of Dave Beasant. Just as the ball was about to cross the line, Bergsson inexplicably leapt to head it over the bar. Worse followed nine minutes later when Phillips's back pass was picked up by Matthew Le Tissier, and he was able to place a shot beyond Gavin Ward.

Fabian de Freitas, the prong of Bolton's attack, was still proving hard to shake off, and early in the second half he had a shot kicked off the line by Ken Monkou after Beasant had scrambled away Scott Sellars's header. Later misses by McGinlay and Coleman were also to prove of more significance from Southampton's point of view than Bolton's.