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Relegation on goal difference - The cruelest way to go

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White lines and Goal difference

Nathan Blake

A chorus of boos echoed around Stamford Bridge when Bolton Wanderers played Chelsea twenty years ago. You’d assume that it was a reaction to a horrific tackle or a clueless decision from an incompetent referee, but it wasn’t.

Jody Morris had just scored to put Chelsea two goals up. Normally a goal is a cause for celebration, although this day was different.

As the older generation of Wanderers fans will remember, Bolton Wanderers were relegated from the Premier League on this day two decades ago.

The home crowd had booed their own team for beating Wanderers. Chelsea had nothing to play for, so when Bolton conceded a second goal due to throwing everyone forward in an act of desperation, the Chelsea faithful weren’t happy. Chants of ‘let them score’ had been sung all game to no avail.

The result left Wanderers in 18th, relegated just one season into their second Premier League spell. Had Bolton drawn at The Bridge, they would have stayed up. But they didn’t.

The team who stayed up in their place was Everton, who just missed out on the drop because of goal difference. Bloody goal difference.

That alone is cruel on Wanderers, but then there was the added smack in the face of what happened at the start of the season.

Rewind back to September 1997. Bolton Wanderers were playing their highly anticipated inaugural game at The Reebok Stadium, a few months after waving goodbye to Burnden Park.

The first game in the new stadium should have been a cause for celebration. It finished 0-0, but was surrounded by controversy.

Gerry Taggart looked to have given Wanderers the lead with a header, but Terry Phelan cleared the ball away as it crossed the line.

Despite outcries, the referee didn’t award the goal. Had it stood, Wanderers would have stayed up. Cruelty personified.

Ironically, Gareth Farrelly scored the decisive goal to keep Everton up, and then scored for Bolton in the 2001 Play-off final against Preston.

If Wanderers had remained in the top flight, would they have been patient enough to sign an unfit Eidur Gudjohnsen? Would Colin Todd have had the ambition and drive of Big Sam to take Wanderers into Europe? Who knows.