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ON THIS DAY: Wanderers live to fight another day in play-off semi-final

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
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2001: Wanderers breathed a sigh of relief after hauling themselves back into the play-off semi-final at West Brom in the final 10 minutes of a tense encounter.

The record books will show that Bolton beat the Baggies 5-2 on aggregate to book their place in the final against Preston North End at the Millennium Stadium but those who chewed their nails – or gum – through the first game at the Hawthorns will know it was anything but a comfortable passage.

Gary Megson’s side led 2-0 with goals from Jason Roberts and Lee Hughes and were seemingly coasting to a commanding lead for the return game the following Thursday.

The match had been beamed back on a big screen to around 1,000 fans at the Reebok – though many had taken the opportunity to watch from pubs around the town in what was flag-cracking weather.

But they were breathing easier when Gudni Bergsson pulled one back, and they were punching the air in delight when Per Frandsen kept his nerve to equalise from the penalty spot with just two minutes to go.

“I got through about three packets of gum, about half a packet more than normal,'' admitted a relieved Sam Allardyce after watching his side's Great Escape act.

''But the play-offs are always an emotional affair. You can feel it, see it, and almost taste it. It affects everybody and today was that type of atmosphere.''

And 2-0 down with time ticking away, Big Sam was chewing more frantically than usual.

At that point even the manager thought it was curtains. ''Like everybody else when we went two down, I was thinking it looks like First Division football again - but things change very quickly,'' he revealed.

''Coming back from two down has given us a fantastic lift. It has boosted the players’ confidence and should give them that little bit more desire to finish the job off on Thursday.

''In the end it was a super result and we've given ourselves the chance to move on one step further.''

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Allardyce wasn't pleased with Wanderers performance and he didn't mince his words.

''We didn't play well. West Brom outbattled and outfought us. They set their game-plan out and were very effective,'' he reflected.

''The back two didn't cope well with their strikers Lee Hughes and Jason Roberts. Those two played as well as anybody we've played against this season.

'' They caused us a lot of problems and we'll have to cope better with them on Thursday.

''But it's not always about performances, it's results and we've got a never say die attitude.”

A bemused Megson summed up his feelings.

"We didn't get a draw there, we gave them a draw," he said. "They didn't get anywhere near us for 81 minutes. We had loads of chances right from the first minute when Lee Hughes missed one.

"We absolutely murdered them and it's amazing that it was us that ended up hanging on at the end. That's football for you.

"What I'm a little bit upset about is when we got to 1-0 some of the players went away from the script and the stuff they did didn't work.

"One or two players took the foot off the gas and when you do that it allows the opposition to get the momentum."

Bo Hansen, Frandsen's fellow Dane and the man whose determined run induced the foul by Phil Gilchrist that left referee David Laws little option but to award the penalty, was never in any doubt about the outcome.

"I wasn't at all worried," he said. "I've seen Per play for the last 10 years and never seen him miss a penalty - even in France. He'd get six or seven penalties a year and never miss one. The only thing I was worried about when I went down was that the referee would give it - but it was clear cut."

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