We are looking back at some of the greatest games in Wanderers’ history with the people involved. Today, MARC ILES speaks to Dean Holdsworth about the 2000 FA Cup semi-final – 20 years ago to the day.
“Now hang on a minute, don’t fall into that trap, who was it that stepped up and took the first penalty five minutes later?”
He is half-laughing as he makes his defence but time, it seems, has not dulled the pain for Dean Holdsworth as he is reminded of the miss which springs to mind every time Wanderers’ FA Cup semi-final defeat to Aston Villa is discussed.
To set the scene, Bolton had given as good as they got against Premier League Villa in their first appearance in the last four since 1958. And with 12 minutes left on the clock in extra time, scores goalless, a ball was fired down the left channel for Eidur Gudjohnsen, who took the ball around the on-rushing David James, looked up and squared a pass to Holdsworth 12 yards from goal.
As Sam Allardyce would attest after the final whistle, there was no other player in the Bolton side you would have wanted the opportunity to fall to at such a crucial juncture of the game.
Holdsworth, the £3.5million club record signing, had 10 goals to his name by that stage of the season and was one of the dressing room’s most experienced heads.
“I can still see it in slow motion now,” he tells The Bolton News. “It’ll forever be in my mind but in 99 out of 100 cases I would have tucked it in the back of the net and we’d have been booking our hotel for the final.
“My problem was that I was thinking of the two players back on the line. And I wanted the shot to go into the roof of the net.
“If I’d have scuffed the shot, it might have dribbled in, but I hit it well and it went way over the bar.
“But in my defence there was still a bit more of the afternoon left - we could still have won in the penalty shootout.”
To rewind, Holdsworth should probably have been spared the pressure. Bolton had been the better side on the day and had chances to have secured passage to the final without any of the drama.
Ten months earlier, Bolton had walked off the Wembley turf feeling they had not done themselves justice in a play-off final whitewash against Watford. But on this occasion they had the best player on the park in Gudjohnsen who so nearly broke the deadlock 19 minutes in when his shot was deflected narrowly wide off Alan Wright.
The Icelander was described as “outstanding” by the watching England boss Kevin Keegan, who was on co-commentary duties for ITV.
Holdsworth had also grazed the post with a header and the Bolton back line, marshalled superbly by South African Mark Fish - whose every touch brought about a chant from the 25,000 travelling fans - frustrated Villa to the point their talented front man Benito Carbone was hauled off 20 minutes before the end, kicking the water bottles in frustration en route to the dugout.
That is not to say the Whites didn’t ride their luck a little. Julian Joachim twice went through one-on-one and though he was wildly off target with one shot, he found Jussi Jaaskelainen in top form with another.
Both sides started to tire towards the end. Allan Johnston’s pace still proved an effective weapon and was too much for young defender Mark Delaney to deal with, the Welshman picking up a second yellow from referee David Elleray for a shirt pull to leave his side with 10 men in the closing stages.
From the free-kick, Holdsworth beat James, diving full length, but cannoned back off the post. Six inches to the left, and who knows how things would have panned out?
To their credit, Villa didn’t allow themselves to sink with a man disadvantage and but for the brilliance of Jaaskelainen might have snatched it.
The Big Finn, who had stared the season as third-choice keeper, denied sub Dion Dublin with an extraordinary save towards the end.
The Villa striker had only returned from a broken vertebrae in his neck four months earlier. Had he scored with a header from Wright’s left-wing cross the headlines would have written themselves.
“Jussi was absolutely brilliant,” Holdsworth said. “He did his bit by keeping the clean sheet but I think it was tough for us once we got to extra time.
“It was definitely hard for me. I had to pull myself together after missing that chance and I was so upset about it but when the final whistle went and we walked over towards the touchline, Sam wasn’t having any of it. He just said ‘Deano - you’re taking the first penalty.’ “I didn’t really have much of a chance to say no - it was tough luck.
“So going up to take that one when you’ve got the England goalkeeper staring back at you and his arms were long enough to touch both posts... It was a test of your mental strength, that’s for sure.”
James had been Wanderers’ nemesis five years earlier in the Coca Cola Cup final and had it not been for his stubbornness to keep Alan Thompson down to just one spectacular goal on the day, Bruce Rioch’s men might well have racked up another notch on their knockout belt.
In the shootout he proved just as difficult to pass.
Though Holdsworth kept his nerve to score, levelling Steve Stone’s first spot kick, the following two Bolton penalty takers - Johnston and and Michael Johansen - were unable to get the job done.
There had been a few misty eyes before the game as the great Nat Lofthouse got a standing ovation from the Bolton supporters at a stadium on which he had one of his finest hours in white shirt.
And tears were all Bolton fans had as souvenirs in the end at Wembley as they walked off the pitch - the applause from both sets of supporters continuing long after the Villa celebrations died down.
For Johansen, the diminutive Danish winger who was set to return home after four years at the club, it was a particularly difficult day.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “The goal gets smaller and smaller when you walk up in front of all those fans.
“There were chances missed but it was me who missed the penalty.
“I saw Allan Johnston place his and I thought, ‘if I have to beat this guy, I’ll have to strike the ball well’. And I think I did. But he saved it.
“I want to do the best I can for this club before I leave and I want to end on a high. I don’t want to end with bad memories of missing a penalty in a semi-final. It will take a few days to get over the disappointment but that is what we are going to have to do.”
Wanderers did indeed have a job to do in the league - and Johansen would score from the spot just a couple of weeks later as Bolton beat Walsall at the Reebok to keep up a promotion chase that would meet its untimely end at Portman Road in the play-offs.
“I don’t attribute any blame to anybody,” Sam Allardyce said as he spoke with pride of the performance. “If you were going to back anyone you would have backed Deano but it wasn’t to be. He was a brave man to take the first penalty.
“We must make sure now that the result is put into the past.”
John Gregory, who had featured briefly at Burnden Park a decade earlier in what was the last stop of his playing career, cut the figure of a relieved man when he summed up the game.
“I was relieved when Dean Holdsworth missed. I thought he was going to score, you would expect someone of his ability to stick it away. It didn’t happen and we are in the final.
“Bolton had less to lose than us and there were times when I didn’t think we were going to win it but I had a lot of faith in my defence and when it went to penalties I had a lot of faith in big David James.
“He’s so big he makes that goal look like a matchbox. There’s not a lot of room left when he’s standing in the middle and he made two excellent saves from penalties. “Dion Dublin said when I sent him on as substitute that he would go on and score the winner and he did.
“It wasn’t a wholly enjoyable afternoon but we are in the final and that’s what matters. But there is no point in coming back to Wembley unless we come back to win it. We haven’t won anything yet.”
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