When the final whistle sounded at Elland Road it was to cries of relief from a home support who had not sat comfortably all afternoon.
Leeds may very well be on route to the Premier League, ending a 15-year exile which had ended in a tear-stained defeat at the Reebok. Plenty more were shed in the intervening decade-and-a-half as running battles against rogue owners and the burden of internal expectation pushed the club to the very edge.
Wanderers have explored similar territory, become familiar with the same financial jargon, and, like Leeds, are now as well-tuned to events in the boardroom as they are to what is happening on the pitch.
Here, on a glorious day in West Yorkshire, they got something from the latter category which gives at least a semblance of hope as Phil Parkinson’s team enter into the final 12 games looking to stay in the Championship.
Patrick Bamford’s 16th minute penalty sounded the chimes of doom but Mark Beevers went against type to haul Bolton back into the game just eight minutes later. Not only that, but for the next 40 minutes they gave just as good as they got, leaving the grand master Marcelo Bielsa pacing his technical area like a caged tiger.
A freakish Ezgjan Alioski goal left Remi Matthews red-faced and Wanderers briefly stunned but when a touchline fracas ended with Parkinson sent to the stands, sub Sammy Ameobi so nearly delivered a perfect sucker punch to claim a point in the dying moments.
It is no use being relegated as noble losers. Bolton will have to find a way of replicating this kind of mettle against the division’s so-called lesser lights. They remain four points from safety after Reading and Rotherham fought out a 1-1 draw at the Madejski, and that gap is not insurmountable if the right incentive is found.
The moderate-in-number but loud-in-volume band of fans who shelled out up to £39 for a ticket to watch a team which had two victories in their previous 23 matches personify what is at stake. Although outnumbered completely, they made themselves heard.
If this week goes according to plan, new ownership and the end of an unhappy chapter in the recent history of Bolton Wanderers Football Club might just be accomplished in time to bring the masses on board too.
Parkinson has happened across a formation which, though exploited against Norwich, looked infinitely more secure on Saturday. Its success has largely been down to Craig Noone’s impressive adaptation to the left wing-back role which appears to suit his up-and-at-them style.
There were worthy contributions right around the pitch for Bolton. The fit-again Gary O’Neil seemed to be involved at every juncture, Callum Connolly worked well with Noone on the left and centre-backs David Wheater and Mark Beevers were rock solid.
Josh Magennis looks to be in the physical shape of his Bolton career. The Northern Irishman should have added to his seven goals this season – starting with a fourth-minute header which was pushed over the bar at close range by Kiko Casilla.
Wanderers fell behind when Pawel Olkowski tripped Tyler Roberts, giving Bamford the chance to score in his third consecutive game against Bolton this season.
Far from signalling a collapse, the response was almost immediate. Wheater’s header was cleared off the line by Luke Ayling and when Joe Williams played the ball back in, Beevers was able to prod home his fourth of the season.
Chances flowed for both sides. Magennis spun to strike a volley just wide before Matthews denied Jack Harrison after a fine break down the right.
After the break, Casilla blocked Williams’ swerving shot and Magennis was only able to follow-up with a header straight at the Spanish stopper.
Frustrations started to build but the way Leeds eventually regained the lead was a hammer-blow, to say the least. Alioski’s looping 25-yard shot did take a deflection but seemed to catch Matthews out as it dropped under the bar and over the line. The Wanderers keeper has been one of Bolton’s best performers of late, and the trajectory of the ball clearly caught him unawares, but the mistake would prove costly.
Tempers boiled over on the touchline when Magennis barged Alioski. Members of both dugouts squared up to players, and an incendiary situation was not helped when a bottle of water was poured on Joe Williams. Parkinson, who had been pointing accusatorily at Pontus Jansson, somehow ended up being the only person shown a red card.
The incident took the momentum out of the game somewhat, but with Sammy Ameobi now on the pitch Wanderers very nearly snatched a point. The winger’s sweetly-struck shot from the edge of the box squeezed inches past Casilla’s right-hand post, leaving Wanderers proud but beaten.
The team will need more than pluck to stay up. But with all signs pointing to a change of ownership and the return of some stability to this grand old club, there is something left to fight for and time to win the battle.
This need not be the continuation of a long sleepwalk back to League One. It could be the weekend that Wanderers were woken.
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