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25 Years On: Bolton Wanderers humble mighty Liverpool at Anfield

We reflect on one of the most famous nights in Wanderers history

Liverpool v Bolton McGinlay
25 years on - what a night
Photo by Malcolm Croft - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

One quarter of a century ago a lowly third level Bolton Wanderers side achieved the seemingly impossible by not only beating but dominating Liverpool in an FA Cup third round replay at Anfield

I remember watching the match on TV as an 8-year-old fledgling Wanderer, who had been successfully thwarted from that despicable fate of being a Manchester United fan by my Dad, and it’s probably the game that sealed my support for Bolton.

In ode to the team that pulled off that Anfield miracle, we’ll take a look back at how events unfolded 25 years ago today.

Liverpool visit Bolton in the Third Round

I remember my Dad going up to Bolton for this cup game, and being too young to go along with him.

Wanderers lined up with Keith Branagan behind a back four of Phil Brown, Mark Seagraves, Mark Winstanley and Scott Green, a midfield of David Lee, David Burke, Tony Kelly and Mark Patterson with the mighty Andy Walker and John McGinlay up top.

The game very nearly didn’t go ahead, and probably shouldn’t have, as a thick layer of frost covered the ground, which saw Liverpool wanting the game called off. Wanderers took full advantage of the icy conditions and raced into a 2-0 first-half lead. First, Green slid a ball across from the right to McGinlay, who rounded Mike Hooper in the Liverpool goal to open the scoring. Then the famous near-post corner routine worked a treat as Kelly flicked Patterson’s cross on and Seagraves headed home to double the advantage.

But the Premier League side responded after the break, halving the deficit through an unlucky Winstanley own goal after Rosenthal’s shot rebounded off the post, then grabbed a late equaliser through Ian Rush after a mad attempted backpass by Seagraves to force a replay.

You can see the highlights from that game in the video below.

Replay: Bolton humble Liverpool at Anfield

In much more appealing conditions in the replay, Bolton went to Anfield and did it all over again. They opened the scoring through that man McGinlay again, converting a sublime David Lee cross from the left with an excellent header into bottom corner.

Lee had the game of his life down the left flank, skinning his full-back at will and whipping all manner of dangerous crosses into the Liverpool box. He setup Walker for a chance that was well saved by Hooper, then shot narrowly wide himself, then picked the ball up inside his own half, ran through the middle of the Liverpool defence and again went close with his shot.

But Bolton sealed it as Walker and McGinlay combined. The latter got away from Stig-Inge Bjornebye and whipped a perfect cross over to Walker, who headed beyond Hooper to double the lead.

Watching it back, there were some big challenges flying in from both sides, including a two-footer by now pundit extraordinaire Jamie Redknapp on Lee that would be an automatic red card these days.

Don Hutchison missed an open goal with around 10 minutes to go, and from that point on there was no coming back on this occasion. Bolton sealed the impossible, and it will remain one of the finest victories in the club’s history. The scenes of the players celebrating in front of the Bolton fans are something pretty special.

You can relive all the action from that evening in the video below.

The side went on to beat Wolves in the next round, only to be knocked out with a 3-1 defeat at Derby County in the fifth round. But, they also got promoted to the First Division (now The Championship) finishing in second place on 90 points, only bettered by Stoke City’s 93.

The players’ thoughts

We had a chat with one of the heroes of that night, now Bolton Under 23s manager David Lee, who told us: “It was a memorable night for us as players, the club and the supporters. No-one gave us a chance of winning the replay.

“Our preparation was no different to any other game, so we’re all relaxed but excited to play at Anfield. I remember the 10,000 Bolton supporters as we came out of the tunnel, giving us a fantastic reception.

“The game itself was brilliant to play in. I remember getting lots of the ball, enjoying taking on the defenders, thinking I can get the better of each of them on most occasions. The cross for Super John was probably my best cross ever. One of the main things I remember was at the end of the game, after celebrating in front of the Bolton supporters we walked to The Kop end, where the Liverpool supporters had stayed to applaud us. I remember standing in front of them as they continued to applaud us.”

And for more of David’s thoughts, check out this video of him and Tony Kelly reflecting on that famous win.