Bolton 3 Everton 2
Date: Monday 16th May 2005Ten man Bolton produced a battling display to end a fine season on a winning note. Goals from Jaidi, Davies and Stelios, and outstanding performances by El Hadji Diouf and Fernando Hierro enabled the whites to win after going behind, for the first time this season. Prior to the match the atmosphere at the Reebok was uncharacteristically relaxed. Bolton, already guaranteed a place in Europe needed a win to consolidate sixth position, and on a pleasant May afternoon, many of the crowd were kitted out in the new Wanderers shirt. The only downbeat person seemed to be Tony Christie. Having spent the last thirty years weeping, hugging his pillow and searching vainly for Amarillo this was understandable. So, a comfortable end of season stroll in the sunshine then? Er… not exactly. That the match threatened to erupt into a brawl on more than one occasion was down to a spectacularly gormless display by referee Neale Barry. The worst thing a match official can be is inconsistent, and Barry was exactly that, especially in the first half. Bolton were penalised on a number of occasions for seemingly innocuous looking tackles while Everton’s very physical challenges, particularly on Jussi Jaaskelainen and Kevin Davies went mostly unpunished. Wanderers started brightly and Gary Speed had the first chance, shooting over, after Stelios had crossed from the right. Everton looked purposeful coming forward and made good use of the long ball. This tactic led to them taking an early lead on eight minutes, when Tim Cahill’s acrobatic volley beat Jaaskelainen, after the Wanderer’s ‘keeper had failed to cope with Hibbert’s hopeful lob into the penalty area. Jaaskelainen redeemed himself a minute later with a fine save from a Kevin Kilbane shot. It took some minutes for Bolton to regain their composure after the goal, and Diouf received a yellow card for kicking the ball away after Barry had inexplicably given a goal kick instead of a Bolton corner. As the half wore on, the Wanderers began to take control. Okocha had a shot deflected for a corner, on 17 minutes, and Diouf’s close range effort was tipped around the post by Everton goalkeeper Richard Wright. It was a frustrating period for the home fans, however. Everton defended doggedly and Bolton’s build up play was frequently disjointed with many a final pass going astray. The exception was Fernando Hierro, whose vision and passing were once more a joy to see. On the stroke of half time, the simmering feud between Tim Cahill and Bruno N’Gotty finally boiled over. There was clearly some provocation, but what the assistant referee saw was a slap by N’Gotty on Cahill. To Cahill’s credit he tried to diffuse the situation, but the deed was already done and Bolton Wanderers' player of the year was dismissed for violent conduct. Cahill received a caution for his part in the incident. The second half started with whites fans in a disgruntled state. Memories of 1-0 home defeats by Portsmouth, Man City and Blackburn were still relatively fresh, and events in the first forty five minutes seemed to be pointing to a similar result. The worries proved groundless as the ten men of Bolton emerged in determined mood. Jay Jay Okocha put a poor first half performance behind him and suddenly remembered how to beat defenders. He evaded two challenges a minute after the interval, but his shot, from a good position, was disturbingly wide of goal. Two minutes later he repeated the feat, this time missing narrowly. In the first half Diouf had drifted in and out of the game, but now he caused Everton countless problems down the left flank. His persistence paid off when he was fouled, close to the corner flag. The resulting free kick was taken by Hierro, and his perfectly flighted cross found Raidi Jaidi, who headed home the equaliser after fifty two minutes. Bolton were rampant now, and went ahead on the hour. Diouf received the ball on the left hand edge of the Everton penalty area. Instead of cutting to the bye line, he chipped the ball to Stelios who was inside the area with his back to goal. The Greek midfielder laid the ball back to Kevin Davies and his shot was deflected into the Everton net. The crowd’s celebrations were short lived. Just over a minute later, Everton were level when a sloppy piece of defending allowed Lee Carsley to fire home the equaliser after Ferguson had miscued his shot. If the fans were discouraged by this, the players were not. Despite the numerical disadvantage they pressed forward and looked confident and resolute. Diouf continued to terrorise the Everton defence and won a corner on the left. Hierro took it, and Stelios stabbed home the winning goal in the ensuing goal mouth scramble. Stelios was replaced by Nolan, immediately after the goal, and Candela came on, as Fernando Hierro exited from his last ever competitive game. The Spanish pass master, one of the finest players ever to grace a football pitch, received a rapturous standing ovation as he came off. Thanks Fernando. It’s been an absolute privilege. The last 15 minutes were worrying for Whites followers. Everton began to take advantage of their superior numbers and some over casual defending gave the visiting fans hope of a further equaliser. The match threatened to boil over once again in the 85th minute when Jaaskelainen took exception to being wrestled to the ground by David Weir. Everton finished the game with ten men when Lee Carsley was stretchered off, after sustaining injuries in a goal mouth incident. This match demonstrated perfectly why Bolton have done so well this season. A man down, and faced with intimidating opponents and a dodgy referee, lesser sides would have buckled. Not Bolton Wanderers. Jay Jay Okocha gave a real Captain’s performance in the second half. At last, he looks match fit. Hierro was inspirational and Diouf seems to get better with every game. Stelios, again made a valuable contribution and Gardner enjoyed himself when getting forward, after Diouf was replaced by debutant, Joey O’Brien. Jaidi gave a creditable performance after being deprived of first team action and Ben Haim made a success of his switch to right back Kevin Davies must have thought that he’d wandered onto the set of Celebrity Wrestling given the number of times he had to extricate himself from the grip of Everton’s defenders, but the Bolton target man stuck gamely to his task and his goal was a deserved reward. Most praise should go to Sam Allardyce. The Reebok dressing room may contain a bewildering mixture of nationalities, but the Bolton boss has moulded a side with a team spirit which is second to none. As an historic season draws to a close, Wanderers fans can look back with pride and a little incredulity. We can also look forward with optimism if the manager’s post match assessment is anything to go by. “We’ve scored three at the Reebok stadium, We’ve won 3-2, last game of the season. I hope is encourages everybody to go out and snap their season tickets up next year, and put as much money in the bank for me to go out and spend as much money as I can, and bring better players, and hopefully, keep this end of season jolly on the last game going, for many years to come.” Sounds good to me, Sam. I’ll go and get my credit card.