“Big changes planned at Bolton Wanderers,” “End of the road for some players,“ “No punches pulled,” promised a local newspaper on Sunday a day after Bolton were thrashed 4-1 at Blackburn. Bolton fans no doubt tuned into the coverage of transfer deadline day with great interest hoping to see the under achievers moved on and two or three new faces brought in. However it was to be a massive anti climax, no-one left, no-one arrived.
The fact that no club was willing to take any of our players speaks volumes. I have no doubt that Dougie Freedman worked overtime to get players out but the lack of interest should not be surprising after the displays they have served up so far this season. Late attempts to bring in Craig Ramage and Michael Kightly failed due to a lack of funds and they instead joined Barnsley and Burnley respectively.
Relegation from the Premier League is really starting to hit home when the money for a couple of loans is no longer available. What Freedman must be thinking now after leaving Crystal Palace for a club with supposedly better resources?
Throughout the summer Freedman has spoken of Financial Fair Play and the need to move players on before he can bring any in. Whilst Bolton kept spending to a minimum over the summer, only parting with small fees for Jay Spearing and Jermaine Beckford, their supposed promotion rivals have ignored these restrictions and continued to spend and heavily strengthen their squads. Bolton supporters could be forgiven for thinking that FFP is an excuse and that the chairman and owner have lost interest.
It appears the club has come full circle from when Sam Allardyce inherited a struggling mid table team in 1999 and its very disappointing to see Bolton’s debts continue to increase, despite receiving over ten years of Premier League TV money.
Certainly it seems some players have lost interest with the performances they have put in since the season started. Any pre season optimism has faded after a miserable August which has returned no league wins in five and elimination from the League Cup by old rivals Tranmere Rovers. It is true the fixture list has not been kind to Bolton with opening games against promotion contenders, Reading, QPR and Nottingham Forest and local rivals Burnley and Blackburn.
Furthermore, a small squad has been stretched once again by injuries to key players, but performances have been unacceptable - highlighted against Blackburn on Saturday who were able to overrun a lethargic and spineless Bolton team. The ease at which David Dunn and Jordan Rhodes were able to score Blackburn’s first two goals was nothing short of embarrassing.
It has become obvious so far that the defence that lacks pace especially in the middle also lacks organisation, the full backs are often exposed due to a very narrow midfield that neither creates nor protects and the forwards have so far failed to take the few chances that have come their way. If things to do not quickly improve it could easily be a season of mid table mediocrity or worse in front of 10,000 fans at the Reebok. Already this season it has been noticeable the dwindling attendances at home matches, no doubt not helped by the lack of investment in the team over the summer.
So how can Bolton go about rescuing this season after such a terrible start? Certainly the return of Chris Eagles should help after he limped out of the season opener at Burnley, he can bring a much needed spark to the midfield and in turn start to create a few more chances for Jermaine Beckford who has contributed next to nothing since arriving at the club. Despite the transfer window ‘slamming’ shut the loan window will soon open for Football League clubs and I’m sure Freedman will be looking to use it to freshen up the squad.
Hopefully those players who are no longer welcome will be moved on and at the very least an upgrade on our current centre backs can be brought in. Finally - and I’m sure something most supporters would like to see – would be a change in captaincy. The current captain Zat Knight has been extremely poor (to put it kindly) this season and does not seem to show any sort of leadership on the pitch. Possibly a reason for Freedman giving him the captaincy in the first place was to try and coax some better performances from the £4 million defender. This has backfired and some supporters made their feelings clear at Ewood Park on Saturday. A more suitable candidate would be Jay Spearing who actually appears to want to play for the club and takes some pride in his performances.
With two weeks now until Leeds visit the Reebok, Freedman has plenty of time to work with the team on the training ground. After his strong post match comments following the Blackburn game such as “certain players not pulling their weight,” it will be very interesting to see what sort of team is selected for the next fixture. Bolton supporters can only hope that the manager backs up his strong words with actions.
Written by James O’Loughlin, We Are Going Up’s Bolton Wanderers blogger
After missing out on last seasons play-offs on goal difference, Bolton Wanderers will be expected to head into the 2013/14 Championship season as promotion challengers.
However, continued financial pressures off the pitch may make Bolton’s task all the more difficult. The chairman has spoken publicly of trying to stay in line with the new financial fair play rules and how Bolton still need to adjust to being a Championship club, this despite the wage bill being drastically cut the previous summer.
Pre-season results have been very poor, 4 games, 0 wins. Granted the results of pre season friendlies are not important, performances are and Bolton have looked decidedly mediocre. Sloppy in defence and possession, lacking in ideas when going forward with the only real bright spark being the performances of Rob Hall. This mirrors the pre season of 2012 when Bolton carried their poor form into the season, got off to a dreadful start that ultimately cost Owen Coyle his job. If promotion is to be a realistic target, the Wanderers cannot afford a slow start this time around.
Dougie Freedman has quietly gone about adding to the squad from last season and despite spending very little money over the summer, Jermaine Beckford, Andre Moritz, Rob Hall, Marc Tiernay and Alex Baptiste have all been recruited. In the other direction the main players ‘out of the door’ have been club legend Kevin Davies, Sam Ricketts Marcos Alonso and Marvin Sordell.
Unfortunately it is the loss of loan players Jay Spearing and Craig Dawson that may prove most damaging to Bolton’s hopes in the new season. Both were instrumental in the up turn in form from February onwards that almost saw Bolton earn a play-off place. Dougie Freedman has spoken of his admiration for the pair but a lack of spending power has, so far, made these players out of reach. It may be a case of having to sell before any potential signings can be pursued.
As well as additions to the first team squad Freedman has also been active in adding to the development squad at the Reebok with the signings of the highly rated trio, Connor Wilkinson, Gary Fraser and Hayden White. This is a refreshing change from previous managers at the club who have largely ignored the development squad, whereas Freedman has shown a willingness to involve younger players in his first team squads. Whether these young players are in fact of the required standard or are just making up the numbers, due to a lack of funds, remains to be seen. Although the new signings are not spectacular they should add depth to the Bolton squad that was lacking last season. Freedman has often spoken of the importance of having options off the bench and believes this is the reason Bolton just fell short of the play-offs last season.
After the departure of Marvin Sordell, Beckford will now likely lead the line and Moritz will provide creativity in the “number 10” position, while Mark Davies recovers from a injury. The signings of Baptiste and Tiernay will fill the void left by Ricketts and Alonso in the full back positions. Finally the addition of Rob Hall from West Ham will provide competition to Chung Yong Lee and Chris Eagles on the wing. If his pre season performances are anything to go by then Freedman may have landed the club a real bargain. Freedman’s eye for a player may be crucial this season with funds at a premium, and he showed last season with Crystal Palace that it is possible to build a successful team in this division on a shoestring budget.
As far as a promotion campaign is concerned the bookmakers have Bolton as one of the front runners just behind the relegated pair, QPR and Reading, who both visit the Reebok in August. Other rivals Wigan, Watford and Nottingham Forest have invested heavily in their squads and will surely challenge, not to mention last seasons play-off semi finalists Brighton and Leicester.
Certainly if Bolton can display the sort of form that they did in the final third of last season a title challenge is not out of the question. Despite not having a striker capable of scoring 20-25 goals Bolton have enough players in the squad capable of getting into double figures and spreading the goals around. If Bolton can tighten up away from home then a automatic spot may not be out of the question, hopefully this can start Saturday at Turf Moor against local rivals Burnley.
Written by James O’Loughlin, We Are Going Up’s Bolton Wanderers blogger
After Tuesdays 3-2 defeat at Leicester, Bolton lie one point and one place outside of the Championship play-off positions. The game itself, especially the second half, had a play-off feel to it. An end to end affair it was Leicester who came out on top thanks to Jeffrey Schlupp’s fine volley ten minutes from time. A spirited second half showing from Bolton was not enough to earn a crucial point. The damage was done 5 minutes before half time as two quick fire Leicester goals overturned the early lead from N’Gog’s penalty. Both goals will have to go down as Danny Butterfield errors as he brought down Lloyd Dyer for a penalty for the first then was sucked inside allowing Dyer the freedom of the area to smash in the second. It was a puzzling decision to start with Butterfield especially with regular right back Sam Ricketts on the bench. An error Freedman seemed to recognise by replacing Butterfield in the 59th minute.
With three games to go Bolton still have a very good chance of snatching one of the play-off berths with many of the teams above them still to play each other. Considering Bolton were languishing in 20th position at the start of the February the turn around has been remarkable. After an indifferent start it is fair to say Dougie Freedman has won over the doubters with this impressive surge up the table. Starting with Burnley at the Reebok, Bolton have been on a run that has seen them win 9 out of 14 games. The foundation of this run has been excellent home form, seven straight wins and only two goals conceded. With away form still a little patchy it comes as a bit of relief that two of the remaining three games are at the Reebok starting this Saturday against Middlesbrough. However with the unpredictable nature of the Championship nothing can be taken for granted.
Looking back on the defeat to Leicester, Bolton weren’t just left counting the cost of points dropped but also a season ending injury to David N’Gog. The French striker can be frustrating at times but is certainly the best Bolton have at the moment. His tally of 8 league goals is nothing spectacular but his hold up play and selfless running will be missed for the remainder of the season. This leaves Craig Davies and Marvin Sordell as Bolton’s main striking options for the run in. With Kevin Davies seemingly out of favour it will be up to C.Davies or Sordell to step up and spearhead the attack. N’Gog isn’t the only player who Bolton will miss for the remainder of the season, Jay Spearing will also play no part in the final three games due to a broken toe. This is arguably a bigger miss than N’Gog as Spearing has been Bolton’s most consistent performer this season adding bite to the midfield and a fine range of passing. Should Bolton make the play-offs then it is hoped Spearing would be available, in the mean time Darren Pratley, Medo and young Josh Vela are the midfield options at Freedman’s disposal. There is the option of recalling Stuart Holden from his loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday but he may better off taking the game time given to him as he continues his recovery from serious injury that has kept him on the sidelines for so long.
Other key performers in Bolton’s late season form have been defenders Marcos Alonso and Craig Dawson. After a poor start to his Bolton career Alonso has been in fine form since Christmas and begun to show why Owen Coyle parted with £2million to bring him to the Reebok. Unfortunately he is now out of contract in the summer and looks set to leave on a free transfer with Fiorentina strongly linked as his likely destination. Could it be a coincidence that the contract situation and the vastly improved performances are linked!?
On loan from West Brom, Craig Dawson like Alonso, has provided Bolton with a threat from set pieces and chipped in with a number of important goals. Interestingly Dawson’s loan will expire before the final game of the season after Freedman chose not to renew it before the loan window closed. Bolton have plenty of options to step in for Dawson when he returns to West Brom but whether David Wheater, Matt Mills or Tim Ream can provide the same level of performance remains to be seen.
With Watford looking the most likely to finish 3rd the remaining three places in the play-offs look like a fight between five teams, Brighton, Crystal Palace, Leicester, Bolton and Nottingham Forest. This Saturdays game see’s Middlesbrough visit the Reebok and they themselves are not mathematically out of the play-off picture, in fact a win would see them go just a point behind Bolton. The other two games left are Cardiff away and Blackpool at home on the final day. Hopefully two games that will see the opposition have ‘nothing to play for’ and increase Bolton’s chances of claiming vital points.
At the beginning of the season I fully expected Bolton to be amongst the front runners for the Championship title mainly due to the fact that the majority of the Premier League squad had been kept on. However after a shocking start and change of manager most Bolton fans were forced to reign in their expectations. Most fans accepted that a season of transition would be in store with a potential promotion bid next season. Expectations have since been raised again after such a strong final third of the season, and it would now be a major disappointment if Bolton failed to claim a top six finish. Ultimately it is the hope that kills you.
Written by James O’Loughlin, We Are Going Up’s Bolton Wanderers blogger
As the boo’s and chants of “you don’t know what your doing” rained down on Dougie Freedman and his players at 1-0 down, I found myself checking the latest scores to see if Bolton were going to drop into the Championship bottom three. With Peterborough, Bristol City and Barnsley all picking up wins this was a crucial three points for the Whites. It really was desperate times at the Reebok but the introduction of Craig Davies and David N’gog on 58 minutes eventually turned the game in Bolton’s favour.
The first half was a tame affair, two well organised teams cancelled each other out with the best chances coming from set pieces. As the game entered the second half you could feel the frustration growing inside the stadium, groans as passes went astray and sarcastic cheering as Adam Bogdan collected crosses. It does appear to be a small minority of boo boys but they can be clearly heard when things are not going in Bolton’s favour. As the argument goes these fans pay good money and are entitled to an opinion however the already fragile confidence of some players isn’t going to be boosted by a negative crowd. If they feel the need to boo why not leave it until full time. This negativity reached a crescendo as Freedman responded to Burnley taking the lead by replacing the lively Steve De Ridder and Marvin Sordell with Craig Davies and N’gog. The ire of the fans, I believe, was not aimed at the subs coming on but the decision not to replace the hopelessly out of form Chris Eagles. It has to be said Eagles has been poor for some time now but he is capable of flashes of brilliance at Championship level. The fact Bolton were chasing a goal probably explains why he was not substituted, added to this de Ridder has not been playing regular football at Southampton. It should also be said that at the beginning of the season Eagles was Bolton’s best player and is still the top scorer with 7 league goals. Perhaps now is the time to give him a rest in order to help him rediscover his form.
Under Freedman Bolton have appeared much more organised than at any time under Owen Coyle. The introduction of two holding players in front of the back four has made Bolton much more difficult to break down (apart from the Peterborough debacle). However this has not been met with universal approval from Bolton fans. Results have been disappointing, but in my opinion, performances are slowly improving. Some good performances in the FA cup were followed by a narrow 2-1 defeat at Watford. By all accounts Bolton were unlucky not to take a point from this game, controlling possession for large periods but conceding two soft goals.
Having had a strong January transfer window and the returning injured players I still believe Bolton can finish the season strongly and reach a much more respectable league position. Certainly the new signings who featured against Burnley at the weekend were impressive. Craig Dawson was excellent in the air against the physical Charlie Austin and appeared to be organising those around him, a quality that Bolton have lacked for some time. As mentioned earlier Steve De Ridder was lively and looks to be able to go past a player but it was the introduction of the muscular Craig Davies that was the biggest positive from the weekend. From this showing he appears to be able to hold the ball up front as well as run in behind the defence this will be invaluable should Freedman persist with his favoured formation of 4-2-3-1. The signing of the highly rated central midfielder, Medo, from Partizan Belgrade further adds to the options at the managers disposal.
On Saturday at least, Freedman “did know what he was doing“.
Written by James O’Loughlin, We Are Going Up’s Bolton Wanderers blogger
After Saturday’s last gasp 2-1 defeat to Everton in the FA Cup there are plenty of positives for Bolton Wanderers to take into the remainder of their league campaign.
Bolton were certainly more than a match for a team hoping to be challenging for a Champions League spot come the end of the season. In the end it was a half cleared corner that cost Bolton the replay they deserved and as Dougie Freedman said post game, it is the small details that are holding Bolton back at the moment.
Similar lapses in concentration in recent league games at Leeds and at home to Millwall have resulted in penalties conceded and points dropped. However more recent back-to-back clean sheets against Sunderland, in the third round cup replay, and then at Crystal Palace are signs of progress.
Further reasons for Bolton fans to be optimistic for the remainder of the season include the return to fitness of several members of Freedman’s squad. Most noteworthy is fan favourite Stuart Holden, whose all-action displays were sorely missed as Bolton slipped out of the Premier League.
The reception he received as he entered the pitch as a late second half substitute was proof as to how popular he is with the Bolton fans. Another player who has suffered injury problems is Josh Vela. In my opinion he was outstanding in the middle of Bolton’s midfield until he was replaced by the Holden in the 81st minute. Up against Fellaini and Osman he more than held his own and looks to be the brightest prospect to come out of the Bolton youth academy since Kevin Nolan.
Looking at Dougie Freedman’s encouraging record of working with and improving younger players Vela looks to have a bright future at the Reebok Stadium. With David Wheater, Matt Mills and Mark Davies also due to return from injury and new signings Craigs Davies and Dawson adding further competition for places, the squad looks as strong as it has done for some time and should soon begin to climb the table.
In addition to squad members returning to fitness there has been encouraging signs of form from Marvin Sordell. Since signing from Watford on transfer deadline day last January the striker has had well documented troubles. However, when given an opportunity in the recent FA Cup games he has been excellent. The goal he scored on Saturday where he applied the finishing touch to a flowing team move was that of a confident striker.
Bolton have lacked a regular goal scorer so far this season with the favoured front pair of Kevin Davies and David Ngog only managing 10 goals between them. Hopefully Sordell can carry his FA Cup form into the upcoming league games. Also impressive in recent games has been Marcos Alonso and if the rumours are to be believed he has attracted the interest of Serie A team Fiorentina. Whether these much improved recent performances are to put himself in the ’shop window’ and secure a lucrative move when his contract expires in the summer remains to be seen!
With only a few days left before the January transfer window slams shut it would be good to see at least one more new signing to go with the arrivals of Davies and Dawson. Ideally that signing would be a winger to replace Martin Petrov and provide a different option from the often frustrating Chris Eagles. With Chung-Yong Lee also struggling to be able to play two games a week after his horrific leg break at the start of last season, another winger would be a welcome addition to the squad.
Optimistically Bolton could still claim a play off place this season as they currently sit 13 points adrift of sixth placed Middlesbrough. More realistically though a strong end to this season would set the team up nicely for a promotion challenge next year.
Bolton can definitely be heartened by Saturday’s FA Cup performance and now concentrate on the remaining league campaign, starting this coming weekend against the Championship’s form team Watford.
Written by James O’Loughlin, We Are Going Up’s Bolton Wanderers blogger
So, I’ve been putting off writing something about Bolton since the start of the season. Games have come and gone and moral has been catapulting between “hmmm” and “oh good God no!” week in week out and I’ve never really felt fully confident in my team’s ability to adapt from the Premier League to the Championship.
However, I’ve just got in from the sub zero temperatures at the Millwall match. I’m hungry, I haven’t had a beer (giving up for January and all that) and I’ve just thawed out my hands using the microwave, some sellotape and a few sheets of tin foil (that’s safe… right?)
I’ll be honest, I fully expected us to get promoted at the first time of asking. I fully expected us to finish as champions. I fully expected to see a group of players show their pride for not just their club, but their game, and really give us a season to rival the magical promotion winning season we had under Colin Todd.
What I’ve experienced, so far anyway, is a small handful of players (SKD, Spearing…) who give their all. Then we’ve got some brilliant players who, unfortunately, go missing. Completely. Chris Eagles, Mark Davies… even Chungy to an extent are all capable of running rings around every single team in this league and yet they seem afraid of getting stuck in, drift out of position constantly and seem to panic when it comes down to decision making.
And then there’s the Quasimodo’s of the team – Zat Knight. Tyrone Mears. Adam Bogdan. There’s more but I’m already welling up just typing those names out. Knight is just awful. To the point of laughter between myself and some of the fans around me. Considering he’s our vice captain he only ever seems to have something say when we concede and usually it’s blaming someone else. Jay Spearing has more presence on the field than Knight and he’s on loan. And far younger.
Walking back from the ground today I overheard a fan in front of me say “our aim now should be to get to 50 points as soon as possible and make sure we don’t get relegated…”
It’s at that point I decided not to fill this first instalment with red faced ranting and pure negativity.
Even playing as we have I can’t see that happening. I’m no expert. I’m not a sports scientist or stat man or football history fanatic. But I can confidently say if we end up in a relegation battle come the end of the season I’ll do the Golden Gamble Draw at half time vs. Blackpool at the end of the season wearing only Lofty’s head.
We’re now 10 points from the play-offs. We have injuries returning, Dougie starting to bring in some of the players HE wants for HIS team and, while it’s not looking like we’ll hit the dizzy heights of 100 points and 100 goals, we’re certainly not in a position to be crying into our pints and pies… yet!
16th in the league sounds more depressing than it actually is. We’re 10 points from a play-off position in a league were everybody is beating everybody else.
There’s a lot more to say and, no doubt, many more twists in our season’s tale. I’ve no doubt we’re staying up… but are we going up?
‘til next time!
Written by Anthony Riley, We Are Going Up’s Bolton Wanderers Blogger
Devastated. Angry. Betrayed. Palace fans are current experiencing a whole raft of emotions following manager Dougie Freedman’s somewhat surprising departure to Bolton Wanderers. The overriding emotion though is one of disappointment. Disappointment that the man who saved the club from oblivion (or League 1 as it is more commonly known) three times, has jumped ship the first time another team has come knocking.
It is hard to judge Freedman’s actions while little is known about the full circumstances around his departure. Co-chairman Steve Parish has already indicated to Sky Sports News that the move was seemingly more to do with ambition than money. Although that raises the question why a team currently languishing in the lower reaches of the Championship can be considered more ambitious than one in its upper echelons?
One thing is for sure though; Freedman’s departure is another death knell for loyalty in football. Freedman has red and blue blood coursing through his veins. Over the last two decades, Freedman spent 13 years at Palace; first as a player, then assistant manager before his promotion to manager midway through the 2010-11 season. For many fans, he will forever be remembered for his last minute winner against Stockport County in the final game of the 2000/01 season to keep Palace up. Others will never forget the loyalty he showed the club in its darkest days during administration three years ago, when he assisted Paul Hart in steering the club to safety. Yet, these memories may now forever be tainted by the cloud under which he has left.
A lot has been made of Freedman’s recent column in the Croydon Advertiser, in which he stated, ‘I think I’m halfway there in getting the club the way I want it to be, and I’m not the sort of guy to leave jobs half done.’ His words ring somewhat hollow now and perhaps bring Freedman’s integrity into question. Without being in possession of the full facts behind the scenes though, it is not clear whether Freedman jumped or has spent the last few months being edged towards the exit door anyway.
After all, it is only a few months since Palace fans were calling for Freedman’s head, following a particularly sluggish start to the season. Three losses in the first three league games and only four wins in 28 games dating back to last season meant that many fans were questioning whether Freedman was the right man to take the club forward. It is only since Palace’s recent eight game unbeaten run that Freedman’s vision appeared to be coming to fruition.
It makes Bolton’s appointment of Freedman seem all the more bizarre. If they are looking for a quick fix to get them back up to the Premiership at the first time of asking, Freedman is probably not the man for the job. It has taken him three years to get Palace where they are now and he is a young manager, still very much learning his trade. Lennie Lawrence is likely to follow Freedman up north, where he can continue to impart knowledge gleaned from his century (or so) spent in football. Whether Bolton’s fans will have the patience for Freedman learning from his mistakes as he goes along remains to be seen.
Freedman is one of a handful of former Palace players or managers considered a club legend. Another that is likely to have his name thrown around in the coming weeks in relation to the vacant manager’s position is Steve Coppell. In times of crisis, Palace have frequently turned to the quietly spoken Liverpudlian but his involvement with the club has been limited since he was shown the door in 2000 by the shy and retiring former chairman, Simon Jordan. Palace fans would likely welcome Coppell back, although perhaps the owners need to be a little bolder in their appointment to show they are serious about a long awaited return to the Premier League.
Whoever does come in will inherit a squad high on confidence (the manager’s recent departure excepted). It is well documented that Wilfried Zaha has been playing like a man possessed so far this season. However, that does an injustice to the rest of the squad, who have been playing some of the most exciting football SE25 has seen for many years. The key for the new manager will be to keep recent momentum going so that Palace are still there or thereabouts at the end of the season. Hopefully the owners have not forgotten the effect Trevor Francis’s appointment had on the club, after Steve Bruce left at the turn of the century, in similar circumstances to Freedman’s departure.
So what of Freedman’s legacy? Regardless of the circumstances in which he has left, he will forever be written into Palace’s history books; whether it be as the man who saved the club three times or as the man who masterminded Palace’s win at the Amex Stadium (a feat that will also be written into Brighton’s history books under the sub-heading: ‘First league loss at new stadium’). He has seen the club at its worst and steered it through to brighter days, leaving the fans with many fond memories along the way. It would be entirely unsurprising if one day, further down the line, he adds another chapter or two to the rich history of this vibrant club.
Written by Martin Fitzgerald, We Are Going Up’s Crystal Palace blogger
Everyone loves a good comeback – except the team on the receiving end of one! They tend to be few and far between in football and that’s why they’re so special. When the chips are well and truly down and all seems lost, sometimes being several goals down can galvanise teams to achieve the impossible. Comebacks are a joy for the neutral and the team doing them, whilst they leave their opponents in a state of disbelief.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find something more enthralling and dramatic than a great turnaround on the football field and this week Toppo’s Top Ten looks at some of the most memorable from the Football League.
10: Watford 4 Bolton Wanderers 3 1993
Vicarage Road played host to one of the most unforgettable games in its history in October 1993, as Watford staged a remarkable comeback against Bolton in the old Endsleigh Division One.
The Hornets were lanugishing in the bottom half of the table while Bolton, under the management of Bruce Rioch and Colin Todd, were a side looking to secure promotion into the Premier League. For the first 71 minutes of the game the Trotters looked every inch promotion contenders, as they opened up a 3-0 lead with Watford not offering much and home fans beginning to stream out of the stadium.
However Glenn Roeder’s side got themselves a goal when striker Gary Porter netted with their first shot on target in the game – some pride salvaged at least. However two minutes later they were back in it, Porter scoring his second after bursting into the box, chesting down the ball and smashing it into the net. With around eight minutes to go, a flick-on saw Ken Charlerey pick up the ball and the midfielder let fly from 25 yards, his shot finding the bottom corner of the net and the turnaround was complete – or so Watford fans thought.
With a minute to go, Watford had a corner which was swung in towards the back post. With Bolton defenders attempting to head it clear it struck an arm and the referee awarded the hosts a penalty. Gary Porter stepped up, sent the goalkeeper the wrong way and thus sealed an amazing comeback for the Hornets as their fans went mad in celebration.
9: Sheffield United 4 Nottingham Forest 3 2003
The game which started Nottingham Forest’s love-affair with the play-offs. Having finished 6th in Division One during the 2002/03 season, Forest hosted 3rd placed Sheffield United in the semi-finals, the first leg at The City Ground ending 1-1. The Blades were favourites going into the Bramall Lane return a few days later and it would prove to be an incredible match.
The hosts fell behind when David Johnson gave Forest the lead on the night midway through the first half and on 58 minutes, the Reds doubled their lead when Andy Reid struck Mathieu Louis-Jean’s deep cross into the net at the back post – Forest, it seemed, were on their way to the Cardiff play-off final.
However United stirred themselves and got a goal back two minutes later when Michael Brown’s deflected free-kick crept over the line and Steve Kabba equalised not long after, volleying the ball high into the net after a flick-on fell to him. With the scores level at 2-2 the match entered extra-time where United went in front through Paul Peschisolido, before a Des Walker own-goal extended their lead further. Jon Olav-Hjelde pulled a last-minute consolation back for Forest but it was Neil Warnock’s side who would go on to face Wolves in the final, after a rollercoaster 120 minutes of football.
8: Southampton 3 Leeds United 4 2005
Four goals in a frantic final 20 minutes saw Leeds United complete an amazing comeback against Southampton in the Championship six years ago. Saints were in control on home turf as Marian Pahars and a double from midfielder Nigel Quashie put them 3-0 ahead at the break – and the score was still the same with 70 minutes on the clock.
Leeds manager Kevin Blackwell threw on striker David Healy and his introduction sparked a remarkable turnaround. Paul Butler’s looping header gave the Whites hope then six minutes later Robbie Blake tapped in to make the score 3-2 with thirteen minutes of normal time remaining.
On 84 minutes Healy’s attempted chip was handled by a Southampton defender in the box and a penalty awarded. Healy stepped up to rifle his spot-kick into the top corner and it seemed Leeds had salvaged a point. However Liam Miller converted a low cross from the right on the half-volley with four minutes left to set the seal on an incredible afternoon’s football. He and his teammates ran to celebrate in front of the travelling Leeds support behind the goal, who would struggle to forget what they’d just seen.
6: Oxford United 5 Portsmouth 5 1992
In a match against Portsmouth they looked well and truly out of, Oxford United pulled off an amazing recovery in the final five minutes to salvage a point. This Division One encounter got off to the best start possible for Pompey as Alan McLoughlin rose highest to power a header into the roof of the net and striker Guy Whittingham doubled the lead with a first-time volley not long after.
The visitors made it three from a corner as Kerry Evans diverted the ball into his own net, David Penney did pull a goal back for Oxford shortly afterwards, but Portsmouth restored their three goal advantage as Whittingham scored his second. Jim Magilton volleyed Oxford back into it before the break after what had been a shocking first 45 minutes from his side.
In the second half it was Portsmouth who extended their lead again as winger Mark Chamberlain rifled a shot into the roof of the net and at 5-2, the match looked over. With five minutes left on the clock, John Durnin ran onto a flick-on to score, but with home fans leaving the Manor Ground Chris Allen was brought down in the box and Oxford had a penalty. Magilton slotted his spot-kick into the bottom corner to make the score 5-4 but they were not finished and after another ball was hit into the Portsmouth area, a shot was parried where it fell to Allen, who headed home to make it 5-5.
5: Peterborough United 4 Cardiff City 4 2009
During the 2009/10 Championship campaign, Peterborough United and Cardiff played out arguably the league’s game of the season as eight goals were shared at London Road in an entertaining 4-4 draw.
Cardiff, gunning for Premier League promotion, displayed their credentials, going into a 4-0 lead with 36 minutes gone. Joe Ledley scored twice, Jay Bothroyd added a third and Peter Whittingham’s 25-yard free-kick made it four. For bottom-of-the-table Peterborough, a heavy defeat was on the cards as the Cambridgeshire side were battling to avoid relegation.
However in the second half they turned the game on its head. Boss Mark Cooper introduced two substitutes to bolster his midfield and one of them, Josh Simpson pulled a goal back for Posh on 51 minutes. Charlie Lee’s header made the game interesting before George Boyd’s 89th minute top corner effort meant Peterborough needed one goal to equalise with just minutes to go. Incredibly they did it, Simpson’s close range effort making it 4-4. An unlikely, but brilliant comeback.
4: Birmingham City 4 Swindon Town 6 1993
On their way to securing promotion to the Premier League in the 1992/93 season, Swindon Town pulled off an outstanding comeback at St. Andrews against Birmingham City. In the first 45 minutes the hosts established a 2-0 lead through Dean Peer and John Frain, before Shaun Taylor’s towering header halved the defecit going into the break.
Two minutes into the second half Paul Moulden rounded Swindon goalkeeper Fraser Digby and finished to make it 3-1 to Birmingham before Andy Saville struck a ferocious left-footed volley which flew into the top corner of the net to extend the Blues’ lead further.
On 60 minutes Craig Maskell fired a low finish beyond Blues ‘keeper Andy Gosney to give Swindon a glimmer of hope and five minutes later David Mitchell’s diving header made it 4-3. Mitchell then silenced the 18,000 crowd as the ball fell to him eight yards from goal and he made no mistake, equalising for the Robins with 14 minutes left. Maskell gave Swindon the lead for the first time in the game as he headed home a corner and on the stroke of injury time Mitchell completed his hat-trick, beating the last defender and goalkeeper to slot home an easy finish. What a turnaround from Glenn Hoddle’s side, who were 4-1 down with half an hour to go.
3: Port Vale 4 Queens Park Rangers 4 1997
In 1997 Queens Park Rangers pulled off an astonishing comeback to snatch a draw at Vale Park in Division One, leaving hosts Port Vale wondering how they’d managed to throw away a four goal lead.
In the first half Vale opened the scoring when Dean Glover steered Jan Jansson’s 24th minute corner into the net and they made it two eleven minutes later, the impressive Steve Guppy crossing to the far post where Lee Mills nodded home. Guppy set up Vale’s third when he laid off Tony Naylor’s pass into the path of Jansson, who smashed the ball under the stunned Tony Roberts in Rangers’ goal. Vale’s fourth came before half-time as Matthew Brazier headed Jansson’s corner into his own net.
After a nightmare first 45 minutes, QPR’s travelling support were probably wondering why they’d bothered to make the 200 mile trip north to Stoke-on-Trent, but they had something to cheer on the 66th minute, as Vale debutant Jermaine Holwyn comically nodded the ball into his own net trying to intercept a lofted pass from the right of the area. On 85 minutes, Andy Impey reduced Vale’s lead to two with an outstanding volley which flew in off the bar – then Port Vale went to pieces. Paul Murray chipped Rangers’ third following some great build-up play, then in injury time striker John Spencer rifled in the equaliser after Paul Musselwhite could only parry away Daniele Dichio’s effort. Unbelievable!
2: Leeds United 4 Preston North End 6 2010
When Leeds United hosted Preston North End at Elland Road in the Championship last season, few could’ve predicted the 90 minutes which lay ahead.
It was North End – struggling near the foot of the table under manager Darren Ferguson – who took the lead through Jon Parkin’s tap-in. Luciano Becchio’s header equalised for Leeds and it was another header which put the home side in front, Alex Bruce beating North End goalkeeper Andy Lonergan. Lloyd Sam set up Davide Somma to make the score 3-1 to the Whites on 27 minutes before Somma added a fourth. Parkin almost immediately pulled a goal back for Preston before the break, but Preston looked all over the place as the sides headed into the dressing rooms for half-time.
Keith Treacy made it 4-3 nine minutes after the break from a corner as the home defence began to come under pressure. United defender George McCartney brought down Paul Coutts in the box to give Preston a penalty, which captain Callum Davidson dispatched high into the net for the equaliser. Preston completed a great comeback with 25 minutes remaining as Parkin scored his third of the night, a low left-foot shot beating Shane Higgs in the Leeds goal, and with eleven to go Iain Hume made it 6-4 to the away side, heading in Billy Jones’ diagonal cross from the right to cap off an incredible victory for North End.
1: Cheltenham Town 5 Burton Albion 6 2010
A goal-fest from League Two when Burton Albion met Cheltenham Town at the Pirelli Stadium during the 2009/10 season. The game saw eleven goals, ended up 6-5 and included a stunning fightback from a Cheltenham side who didn’t know when they were beaten.
Burton were 2-0 ahead at half-time thanks to a brace from Shaun Harrad but Justin Richards and Medy Elito restored parity early on in the second period. Burton were soon 4-2 ahead after an own goal from Cheltenham’s Michael Townsend, who deflected Cleveland Taylor’s cross into his own net, before a close-range strike from Brewers’ marksman Steve Kabba. With six minutes remaining Cheltenham were back in the game, Michael Pook making it 4-3 from a free kick in the 84th minute, but a minute later Kabba netted his second to put Burton 5-3 ahead and seemingly on course for victory.
Pook got his second of the match in the 87th minute as his strike hit a Burton defender before going in, then Richards grabbed his second goal to make it 5-5. Mark Yates’ side had pulled off an incredible turnaround but they were not done yet, as with virtually the last kick of the game, Pook completed his hat-trick and the most unlikely of victories, his rising drive beating Brewers’ goalkeeper Artur Krysiak from 25 yards out deep into stoppage time.
Within the space of ten minutes Cheltenham had somehow turned a 5-3 defecit into a 6-5 win, leaving the Burton players, staff and supporters shell shocked.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going up podcast member and blogger
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