Football: Bolton's valiant efforts end in vain

Mike Rowbottom
Sunday 10 May 1998 23:02

Chelsea 2 Bolton Wanderers 0

BOLTON WANDERERS sank from the Premiership for the second time in three seasons yesterday amid an atmosphere of heady celebration.

It was their excruciating misfortune that the confirmation of their ultimate failure should come at a club which is boiling upwards on a wave of success.

As Chelsea's fans applauded the sight of the Coca-Cola Cup and savoured the possibility of adding the European Cup-Winners Cup on Wednesday night, Bolton's misery was a side issue.

As the blue banners waved, the 1,500 or so travelling supporters stood in shock after seeing their team drop into the First Division by virtue of an inferior goal difference to Everton.

Mothers comforted their sons. Women, and men, stood and wept. "I honestly thought we would do it," said John Smalley, one of the Bolton faithful, as he stared out at the players leaving the pitch with expressions that mirrored his own shell-shock.

So what would he do now? "Sulk all the way home," he said with a wry grin.

Sadly for Bolton's manager, Colin Todd, that course of action was not an option. He had to comfort his players at the end of an afternoon when their hopes - and those of their supporters - had risen, then fallen, then revived, before final extinction.

The fading embers of Bolton's season were stirred by Everton's faltering form against Coventry at Goodison Park.

When Howard Kendall's men failed to secure a 2-0 lead from the penalty spot, Bolton - who by that stage were 1-0 down to Gianluca Vialli's 72nd minute opening goal - only needed a goal to maintain their one point advantage. "They've missed, they've missed," came the cry from Bolton's radio-clutching horde. "Come on!"

Then, as news of Coventry's late equaliser came through, the excitement rose to manic levels - until Jody Morris killed it all off with a second Chelsea goal on the break a minute from time.

Afterwards, Todd emerged from a dressing-room where, in his own words, there were a few tears. "It's not a nice experience being in there," he said. "It is a terrible disappointment for us all today. We came here fully believing that we could do enough to stay up. We came very close, but it just wasn't to be."

Overall, the story of the match was one of enormous effort from the visiting side under an unremitting sun. But their labours yielded precious few genuine opportunities - which, in retrospect, is the story of their season.

Perhaps the decisive moment of the match occurred after half an hour when Bolton's Danish midfielder Per Frandsen carried the ball from deep in his own half on a 60 yard run which saw him gather momentum as he evaded two challenges. For a moment, he seemed on the brink of a momentous achievement, but instead of shooting at his first opportunity he cut inside Laurent Charvet and allowed the back-tracking Dennis Wise the opportunity to clear his shot off the line.

Evertonian fears that Chelsea would field a weakened side just three days before meeting Stuttgart in Stockholm were not substantiated by the team sheet.

Of those in contention for a place in the final, only three - Gianfranco Zola, who has a hamstring injury, Graeme Le Saux and Frank Sinclair, with calf injuries - were absent. And any lingering suspicion that Chelsea would rest their main players was put to rest at the start of the second half when Gustavo Poyet, Roberto Di Matteo, and the player-manager himself, Gianluca Vialli came on from the bench.

Poor Bolton. It was as if a different fighter had come out of the corner between rounds. An early break in which Di Matteo supplied Vialli for a chance to crash a shot against the woodwork - albeit that it was ruled offside - gave an ominous foretaste of what was to come.

As Bolton laboured, the home side, who played well within themselves throughout, always looked capable of gaining swift retribution. And so it came to pass. In the 72nd minute Morris's shrewd pass bisected the Bolton centre-backs, Gerry Taggart and Mark Fish, allowing Vialli to roll in his 19th goal of the season. And Morris's cross-shot finally put the visitors' task beyond them.

"Relegation is more difficult to take this time," said Todd. "There is only one place to be and that's in the Premiership. We bounced back last time and it's got to be on our minds to do it again."

But first, Todd and his players will have to overcome a deadening sense of disappointment.

Goals: Vialli (72) 0-1; Morris (89) 0-2.

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Clarke, Charvet, Le Boeuf, Granville; Petrescu (Poyet, h-t), Wise (Di Matteo, h-t.), Newton, Morris; Hughes, Flo (Vialli, h-t) Substitutes not used: Lambourde, Hitchcock (gk)

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Bergsson (Johansen, 69), Fish, Taggart, Phillips; Cox, Frandsen, Sheridan (Salako, 72), Thompson; Taylor (Giallanza, 65), Blake.

Referee: A Wilkie (Co Durham).

Bookings: Chelsea: Le Boeuf, Charvet.

Man of the Match: Thompson (Bolton).

Attendance: 34,845.

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