Bolton Wanderers Football Club do not do things the easy way. Today they made the task just too hard for themselves. After a 10 year run in the Premiership, Bolton once again find themselves in England's second division.
This match started terribly for the Trotters. Stoke came out of the gates looking hungry, and as has been the story so often this season, Bolton did not do well absorbing the pressure. The goal was inevitably coming, although when it did it was not entirely above board. Johnathan Walters bundled Adam Bogdan over as he appeared to have the ball with both hands, and the ball ended in the back of the net. It was, at best, a dodgy goal, and at worst a full on foul on Bogdan.
The goal, however fortunate, appeared to galvanise the home side and the onslaught that began the match only continued. Bolton looked dangerously close to repeating the FA Cup Semi Final debacle. Any attack by the visitors fizzled out long before it could worry Thomas Sorensen. Meanwhile Walters and Peter Crouch worried Bogdan at the other end of the park.
At 30 minutes, things were beginning to look rather dire indeed for Bolton Wanderers, and then Kevin Davies inspired the team. The captain hit the crossbar with a header, so close to being a goal. In spite of the fact that it didn't make it into the back of the net, the close chance seemed to remind the Trotters that they were meant to be playing a football game. Ivan Klasnic, and Sam Ricketts followed SKD to take their chances, but it wasn't until the 38th minute that Bolton equalised. Mark Davies battled with Stoke defenders to get ahold of a loose ball in the Stoke area, and somehow it ended in the back of the goal. It didn't matter exactly how it happened, and I'm still not quite sure how it did, but Bolton were back in the game.
Just about 6 minutes later, on the stroke of halftime, Kevin Davies played the hero for his side again, as he gave them the lead. In retrospect, the shot itself was probably meant to be a cross. The skipper found himself wide on the right wing, he sent the ball in and by some sort of miracle landed in the top right corner of the goal, way out of the reach of Sorensen.
The second half began with no changes for either side. In what is an achingly familiar story line for Bolton fans this season, the fight and purpose that consumed the team before the halftime whistle seemed to have diminished, while Stoke came back with a vengeance. All eyes were also on the news coming from the Etihad Stadium, as Bolton needed a Manchester City win to stay up. The news came that Queens Park Rangers had taken the lead against City.
To compound that news, the Stoke City attacks came to fruition. While Adam Bogdan did well to save the original shot, he brought Crouch down to attempt to stop another, and conceded a penalty. Walters put the penalty well away with an authoritative shot. Bolton then needed 3 goals to stay up, one for themselves, and two for Manchester City. Fair dues to the Bolton team, they gave the match everything they had, but the execution was more like the flailing of a drowning man than the work of a football team who belongs in England's first division.
In the end, City pulled off that miracle against QPR, scoring 2 goals in 2 minutes to secure themselves the title. Bolton just couldn't hold up their end of the bargain however, and the 2-all draw with Stoke sent them down. It's difficult not to feel bitter about the way this happened. Walters' first goal probably should not have stood, and the match could have ended very differently. Ultimately, however, the Wanderers have no one to blame but themselves.
The team should not have left it to the last day to ensure survival, and due to that now find themselves in the Championship. It falls to them now to make the best of this Championship season that they can. It is a chance to rebuild, and to bring together a team that has increasingly been on different pages. This is a fresh start. We will be back in the Premiership some day soon. We are the one and only Wanderers, and I am Bolton til I die.
I'll see you in the Championship.