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Bayern Munich 2 Bolton Wanderers 2 - Golden games remembered

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karlypants

karlypants
Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
The red neon lights dazzled, the beer flowed and a Bolton team that had no right to claim a point in Munich earned themselves the most unlikely slice of history.

Whereas Wanderers’ first European adventure had been so carefree, such a voyage of discovery, six months after Sam Allardyce’s shock resignation it was still a club searching for a new identity.

Sammy Lee’s reign had been an unmitigated disaster and his replacement, Gary Megson, knew almost immediately that it would be hard work winning over a fanbase still hurt by the circumstances of Allardyce’s exit.

A second campaign in the UEFA Cup had begun under Lee’s watch with an unconvincing 2-1 win against Macedonians, FC Rabotnicki. A few weeks later caretaker Archie Knox took charge of a 1-1 draw against Portuguese side Braga, with Megson watching from the stand.

The former Leicester and West Brom boss had been given a lukewarm reception by the Bolton fans and early results - a home draw against Aston Villa, a home defeat to Manchester City and a point at West Ham – were along similar uncertain lines.

Around 4,000 Bolton fans had bought tickets to the Allianz Arena, the space-aged stadium which had been revamped as a showpiece venue for the 2006 World Cup. Precious few among them would have seriously expected a result that could further Wanderers’ chances of qualifying from the group.

Within the squad, expectation levels were similarly reserved, especially with injuries starting to mount up. The absence of Nicky Hunt and Joey O’Brien meant Gavin McCann was given the short straw – a right-back berth which would pit him directly against French flyer Franck Ribery – and when Gary Speed pulled out late with a calf problem, Megson was forced to draft in Mikael Alonso to partner Danny Guthrie in the middle.

Ever the professional, Kevin Davies went about his duties as normal, completely unaware that he would cement his own legend by the end of the night.

“It’s funny,” he told The Bolton News. “But when you are involved and playing you don’t get a chance to absorb it all. But I can remember thinking ‘this isn’t going to be easy’.

“The Bolton fans were in the squares and the stadium drinking and enjoying themselves and we were thinking ‘God, I wish I was out there enjoying it with them’.

“When the draw had been made there was a big buzz on the training ground. Everyone was chuffed they would have the chance to go and play there but by the time it came around the edge had been taken off it a bit.

“There was a new manager, we weren’t doing that well in the league at the time, and there were a lot of players injured.

“You started looking at the players in their line-up and even the ones on the bench and, yeah, we just got to get out there and try to shake them up a bit.”

Chris Flanagan’s book ‘Who Put the Ball in the Munich Net’ provides superb insight into the night, quotes Megson: “I remember when the players went out and there was only me and Archie Knox still in the dressing room.

“I looked at our team compared to their team and said to Archie that we have really got to make sure that we don’t get a good hiding from this lot so that it doesn’t impact on us in the league.”

Premier League survival over European ambition would become an issue in the months to come but for the time being, a team containing the relatively unknown names of Ali Al-Habsi, Gerald Cid, Lubomir Michalik and Daniel Braaten were about to take on a club with 20 league titles and four Champions Leagues at that stage in history.

Davies, as ever, set the tone. Rattling into an early challenge on Germany international Marcell Jansen he put Bayern on to the back foot.

And eight minutes into the game, the first miracle of the night.

Ricardo ‘Bibi’ Gardner had not scored since Boxing Day 2002, playing the majority of his football at full-back. Restored to the wing, where he had first plied his trade for Bolton as a teenager in the late nineties, he skimmed a bouncing right-footed shot off Jansen’s foot which looped up and off the underside of the bar into the net.

Utter shock filled the stadium. The Bolton News’ commentary – filed by internet editor Chris Sudlow listening to John Helm’s commentary on Setanta – described a “stunned silence” as the ball bounced in.

Gordon Sharrock, beaming from the press box, added in his match report: “Gardner, for whom goals are the rarest of commodities - his last came on Boxing Day 2002 in a 4-3 Reebok victory over Newcastle - hit a right-footer, of all things, past Kahn to show the Bavarians Bolton were a force to be reckoned with.”

“I don’t think they expected us to go at them,” Davies admitted. “But good players like that, they are not going to just roll over. It got a lot tougher after that.”

Bayern began to isolate makeshift defender McCann, and Ribery, who had been Bolton’s chief tormentor for Marseille a few years earlier, started to run the game.

Though Davies did have a chance to score a second for Bolton, Bayern’s pressure told before half time as Ribery found Bastian Schweinsteiger and the future Manchester United man squared for Lukas Podolski to steer a lovely shot past Al-Habsi, his first goal since arriving in the summer from FC Koln.

Bayern laid siege to the Bolton goal in the next few minutes before Czech referee Jaroslav Jara brought proceedings to a merciful end.

Megson switched McCann for Gardner, figuring the Jamaican’s pace could work better against Ribery despite his innate left-sidedness.

But within a few minutes of the restart Bayern were in front. Ribery again surged down the right, finding Podolski at the near post for his second of the game.

It isn’t a romantic sentiment, given the mythology behind this 90 minutes, but Omar Hitzfeld’s decision to take off Podolski – and later Ribery – smacks of over-confidence even all these years on.

True, the Germans were able to send on Italian target man Luca Toni and the soon-to-be-great Toni Kroos, but both took time to find their touch in the game and offered Bolton just enough respite.

Al-Habsi was also destined to provide a save that would go down in folklore.

Bayern’s passing on the night was at its crispest, and Ribery was now in-field looking for goals. Playing one-twos with Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose the Frenchman drilled a low shot towards the bottom corner, Al-Habsi got down smartly to his left and somehow managed to spoon the ball over his crossbar.

It may have lacked the proximity of Pele’s header, repelled so memorably by England’s Gordon Banks in 1970, but the physics of Al-Habsi’s save are still hard to fathom.

The game looked destined for heroic failure. Bolton had a home game against Middlesbrough the following Sunday and a result there would numb any regret over an exit at the group stages.

And then a goal that would spark a terrace chant, still sung 13 years later, and the title of a book.

Adranik, now on for Braaten, took a quick throw in to set Nolan on his way into the penalty box and after he lifted the ball over Lucio a thought flickered briefly in the midfielder’s mind that he might have a shot on goal. Wisely, he got just enough contact on the ball to pass square for Davies, and having readjusted his body position, he swept a shot under Kahn to spark delirium in the top corner of the stadium, tiers two and three.

Bayern pushed again but ran out of time. Hitzfield was unrepentant in the post-match press conference, faced with a barrage of questions from the German reporters about his two second-half substitutions.

"We have watched them play and know that they have fewer points than they deserve,” he said. "I took Podolski off because he will be playing against Stuttgart. And RibĂ©ry would not have been able to prevent the equaliser. It looked like we were in control, but then we were careless and lacked concentration, conceding an unnecessary goal from a throw-in."

Davies gave Bolton fans some memorable moments and though the first European campaign still ranks as his personal favourite, that night in Munich will never leave him.

“I’ve not got loads of medals and trophies to look back at but those experiences from Chesterfield and the FA Cup semi-final, the play-offs with Preston, it’s the European years with Bolton that I really remember,” said Davies.

“We never looked at Europe as being a hindrance. It was like a holiday.

“There’s a little bit of disappointment that we didn’t reach the Champions League, because we were so close, but to have played in Europe and to have scored somewhere like Bayern Munich, it’s special.”

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