25 games. 495 days. A relegation. A change of manager. Ins. Outs. The odd shake it all about at board room level. And finally, an away win.
496 days ago (I'm writing this on Sunday), Wanderers beat Russell Slade's Cardiff 3-0. Eidur Gudjohnsen was still a Wanderer, David Cameron's rubbery face still dominated our screens as Prime Minister, Leicester City were bottom of the Premier League with just 8 games to go. A lot has changed between Bolton's last away wins. Whisper it, but we may finally be looking towards a brighter future for the Wanderers.
Even more impressive are the stats that haven't been mentioned as often as the day-to-day count. This is the first season in which we've opened our account with 2 wins in as many games since 2001-02, when Sam Allardyce walked on water in the Promised Land. The first time we'd won back to back league games whatsoever since 2014. It was the first time since 2012 that Wanderers had come from behind to win away. And it felt fantastic.
Phil Parkinson changed the shape for this game: Proctor and Madine started upfront together in a 4-4-2 diamond, playing very wide and often leaving a sizeable gap in the middle. Mark Howard returned to the Bolton goal, Buxton and Wheater came into an unchanged back four from the Sheffield United game last weekend, and Jay Spearing returned to the starting line up in a midfield diamond. Josh Vela and Liam Trotter were in the middle, with Mark Davies heading the diamond.
Nearly 800 away fans crammed into the away end terrace at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, and greeted the players to an electric atmosphere before kick off. Situated just 8 yards from Lawrie Wilson, I yearned for a seat as my knees turned to jelly. I shouted. He heard. We made eye contact. He smiled. And I fell more deeply for the Tresemme Prince than ever before.
There was an expectation in the air. The expectation of a crowd who'd travelled five hours in a Citroen C1 to see their team play in the glorious Kingston weather, not the expectation of fans who followed a side who hadn't won away for over a year. Wanderers played in all white, something I believe they did against Cardiff all those months ago in 2015. I let those around me know this - the omens were good, the Whites were going to win. The curse was to end here, today.
Of course, Bolton were never going to do it the easy way. After a bright start from both sides, some neat play by the Dons on the edge of the Wanderers box left Andy Barcham in space to curl a lovely right footed effort into the top corner past Howard. At first glance he looked offside, but after looking at the replays, it appears at least Jake Buxton and potentially another Wanderers defender played him on. We'd been here before. The songs turned into venting frustration, some shouting words of "encouragement" to their favourite pantomime villains Gary Madine and Mark Davies. Some felt it necessary to broadcast how long they'd been watching Bolton ("I've been watching Bolton for 41 years and I've never seen it as bad as this" type nonsense) and others just felt the need to travel 200-plus miles to have a good old moan. I couldn't help but think, at this ground of all places, even our fans need a reality check at times. This is a rare example of a football club who have given a one fingered salute to modern football and its cut-throat ways, and made the long and difficult journey to where they are now. No matter how bad times get, there are always those who've had it worse. It didn't seem like the time nor place for the moans and groans of our fanbase.
If sections of the crowd were turning, the performance from Bolton wasn't. The long ball game Wanderers played was dealt with well by Dons centre halves Charles and Robinson. The diamond formation made the middle of the park very congested, and Wanderers had very little width. However, width wasn't needed when the much maligned Mark Davies found a gap between midfielders, and cut back to Madine. He faked a shot onto his left foot, took a touch, and pulled the trigger. His shot took a noticeable deflection and trickled past goalkeeper Clarke into the net. Wanderers were level through a slice of fortune with little more than 10 minutes left of the first half, and the world seemed a brighter place. Wanderers threatened another before half time, Spearing lashing a shot wide and Beevers heading over the bar, but when the whistle blew at 3:45, the teams went in level.
If the away following were expecting an easy ride in the second half, they were wrong. Wanderers struggled to get into second gear in the first 10 minutes of the half, with only Proctor lashing wide. Andy Barcham continued to be a thorn in Wanderers' side on the left wing, with ex-Bury man Tom Elliott proving a handful for Wheater and Beevers. Mark Davies was booked for a strange handball on the edge of his own box, clawing at the ball as he fell to the ground. Fortunately the free kick came to nothing, and Bolton went unpunished. On the hour mark, Zach Clough replaced the mediocre Davies at the tip of the diamond, and showed flashes of his usual brilliance going forward.
With twenty minutes to go and the game heading for a draw, Gary Madine (whose "Washing Machine" song was a personal highlight of the day for me) held the ball up and spread the play to Jamie Proctor who was in some space down the right side. Proctor sent a low, right footed cross in which Zach Clough failed to connect with, but Yaya Trotter was there to slam home. Wanderers were winning away. There was still time to make a colossal turd of it all as Wanderers like to do, but the fact remained. Wanderers were winning away.
Chris Taylor replaced the unimpressive Vela for Wanderers, while ex-Oldham man Dominic Poleon came on for the Dons. Though the Dons pressed for an equaliser, Wanderers looked threatening on the counter, with Madine flashing a shot over and Proctor dragging another shot wide. One noticeable change under Parky is that we get the ball to the centre forwards quicker, long and in the air if needs be, and they're shooting far more often. It's far from the science of Pep Guardiola's full back mutations, but it works for us.
As the minutes ticked down, new signing Andy Taylor came on for his debut, replacing match winner Trotter. Madine began to chase down long clearances, holding the ball in the corner when given the chance. It was negative, it was ugly, but it was effective game management. The seconds ticked down, and Wanderers held on for their first three points away from home in more than a year. The relief, joy and appreciation of the fans was fully apparent at the sound of the full time whistle.
And so ended a near-500 day hoodoo. It wasn't champagne football, we didn't play Wimbledon off the park, but we did what we had to in order to win the game. And do you know what? That's alright with me. Phil Parkinson is slowly eradicating the loser mentality surrounding the squad: his challenge now is to turn us into winners.