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Goalfests, Disappointment and Joy: Bolton Wanderers on the Final Day of the Season

Rob delves through the history books with Bolton needing just a draw to secure promotion on Sunday

John McGinlay
Last time Bolton were promoted from the third tier, this guy bagged 33 goals

If Bolton Wanderers can muster just a single point from Sunday’s final game of the season at home to Peterborough United they will be promoted back to The Championship at the first attempt.

With that heartwarming thought in mind we thought it apt to take a look at how previous Bolton sides have fared on the final day of the campaign. Grab a cuppa, a couple of biscuits and sit back to enjoy some interesting statistics and reminisce of season finales from throughout the ages.

A losing final day record

Bolton Wanderers have competed in every single season of the Football League since its inception way back in 1888. In the many years since, they have played out 118 final league games of the season - of which 58 have been at home and 60 have been away.

In these 118 matches Bolton have won 42, lost 46 and drawn 30. In the process, they have scored 151 goals (1.27 goals per game) and conceded 181 (1.53 goals per game).

Wanderers have come up against 50 separate opponents on the final day (Peterborough will be the 51st), with the most frequent closing fixture being against Everton on some nine occasions - in which Bolton have won four, drawn three and lost two.

The next most common final day opponent is a four-way tie between Birmingham City, whom we’ve played four times in the last 11 final days of the season (won 2, lost 2, drew 1), Blackburn Rovers (won 4, lost 1), Chelsea (lost 3, drew 2) and Middlesbrough (won 3, lost 2).

We’ve also taken on this season’s runaway League One winners Sheffield United (lost 2, drew 2), Stoke City (won 1, lost 1, drew 2), Wolverhampton Wanderers (won 1, lost 2, drew 1) and Arsenal (lost 3, drew 1) four times on the last day of the season. The latter has been one of our tougher final day opponents, most recently beating Bolton 2-1 on the last day of the 1995/96 campaign and recording more comprehensive victories that we’ll come onto below...

Final day goalfests

The last match of the season often has a feeling of freedom about it, case in point being West Bromwich Albion and Manchester United’s ridiculous 5-5 draw in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game as manager. And Bolton have had their fair share of goalfests on the last day of the season down the years, both in their favour and very much against it.

The most recent takes us to Charlton Athletic in 1983, and a 4-1 thumping at The Valley. But that doesn’t even come close to the embarrassment of being smashed 6-1 at Carlisle United back on the final day of the 1966/1967 campaign. Bolton also conceded four on the last day of consecutive seasons in 1963 and 1964, losing 4-1 at Ipswich Town and 4-0 at home to Wolves respectively.

More four-star punishment was handed out by Leicester City, Chelsea and Derby County in 1955, 1951 and 1950 respectively, previous to which there had been 5-0 thumpings at the aforementioned Arsenal, under infamous manager Herbert Chapman in 1938 and 1931 - who led a side to five league titles through that decade.

Looking back even further offers up worse punishment for Bolton sides, with a 6-1 defeat at Leicester in 1929, a 5-0 defeat at Sheffield United in 1895 and a 5-2 loss at Everton in 1892.

However, all that doom and gloom was countered with some big victories to send fans into the summer happy. At the turn of the century Bolton defeated Burton United 5-0 on the last day of the 1899/1900 season, they beat Huddersfield 4-0 in 1927, and 7 May 1932 saw Bolton drub a Liverpool side 8-1 at Burnden Park (oh yes, we beat Liverpool EIGHT-ONE).

Recent final day struggles

Bolton’s performances on the final day of the season in recent years do not bode overly well for Sunday. Indeed, the club hasn’t won its final game of the season since a 2-1 victory over Birmingham in 2010, and has won only once in ten attempts since also beating Birmingham 11 years ago.

Last year saw the relegation party that was a dull (in footballing terms anyway) 1-0 defeat at Fulham, while the previous two seasons saw two further games against Birmingham - a defeat in 2015 and a 2-2 draw having been two goals up the previous year, a fightback that kept the Blues up.

In 2013, Bolton missed out on the chance to make the play-offs in their first year back in The Championship by only managing to draw 2-2 at home to already relegated Blackpool. That same scoreline, which has occured five times since 1997 and eight times in total down the years, saw Bolton relegated at Stoke City in their final game in the Premier League in May 2012.

Those two wins over Birmingham aside, we’ve only won three times on the final day of the season in 15 other attempts this millennium. A Dean Holdsworth goal earned a 1-0 home win over Norwich City in 2000, Per Frandsen and Jay-Jay Okocha kept us in the Premier League with a dramatic 2-1 home win over Middlesbrough in 2003 - which remains one of my favourite footballing memories - and a 10-man Bolton side rallied to a 3-2 win over Everton in 2005 thanks to goals from Radhi Jaidi, Kevin Davies and Stelios Giannakopoulos.

Naughty Nineties

Bolton actually had a decent end to the season through the 1990s, only losing on three occasions - of which two were at Arsenal and Chelsea.

The Arsenal clash in May 1996 saw a Bolton side boasting the talents of Steve McAnespie, Mixu Paatelainen and Bryan Small come up against David Seaman, Ian Wright, Paul Merson and co, yet the visitors took a surprise 76th minute lead through Andy Todd. However, the joy was short-lived thanks to goals from two decent players, David Platt and Dennis Bergkamp.

Three years later saw Wanderers relegated on goal difference despite racking up 40 points with a 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, through goals from player-manager Gianluca Vialli and Jody Morris. That season will be remembered for Everton only surviving by the skin of their teeth, having earned an unfair 0-0 draw at the new Reebok Stadium after Bolton had a goal not awarded when the ball was clearly over the line.

However, the most important memory of the final day of the season in the 1990s has to be the 1-0 victory over Preston North End. A John McGinlay penalty 15 minutes from time was enough to secure Wanderers’ promotion back to the second tier. You can see the reaction to that win, which I remember vividly as an 8-year-old back then, for yourself in the video below.

The 1980s were less successful, with five defeats and four wins on the last day, although the most interesting thing to note is that Bolton couldn't 'celebrate' the last day of the season in front of their own fans for eight successive years between 1983 and 1990. One of those was a 2-1 defeat at Preston two days before I was born, and we suffered three playoff defeats in five years between 1987 and 1991 against Aldershot (who I think were in the league below, Division 4), Notts County and Tranmere Rovers.

Successful Sixties and Seventies

The 1960s and 1970s saw pretty happy ends to the season for Wanderers, with just five final day defeats in two decades, although one of those was the 6-1 loss at Carlisle.

The Good Old Days

Looking way back to Bolton's first ever season finale takes us to 23 March 1889 and a trip to Accrington. Bolton ran out 3-2 winners over the original Accrington Stanley side, which folded in 1966, and finished in fifth place in the inaugural season of the Football League, which was won by Preston.

The next year we drew 2-2 with Burnley, then beat Blackburn 2-0, then racked up a 5-2 away victory over Everton in 1892. The next year saw the first of our 46 final day defeats, a 3-0 defeat again at Everton. That sparked a series of final day losses, with Bolton tasting defeat seven times over the next 11 years.

Between 1902 and 1923, the year that Bolton won the famous White Horse FA Cup Final over West Ham United, we won just three of our 22 final games. While in the next 29 outings, between 1924 and 1958, Wanderers ended the season with a victory just seven times. Not great.

Promotion beckons

These stats may not make previous form sound too great, but the fact remains that Wanderers have secured at least the single point they require on Sunday on 61% of their final day clashes in history.

I have full faith in Phil Parkinson and the boys to go out there and not only do what is required of them but to beat Peterborough on Sunday. Fingers crossed...

If you're interested in seeing our final day of the season results, then you can view all of them down the years on this link.