Wanderers face Peterborough United at the weekend - so we decided to delve into our archives for a previous meeting with Posh, a 4-0 victory inspired by John Thomas's hat-trick from January 1988.
JOHN Thomas fired Wanderers to their biggest away win in 10 seasons at Peterborough in January 1988 but still couldn’t walk away with the match-ball.
Hard-up Posh had seen their entire board of directors resign over a £500,000 debt that threatened the club’s existence and were reluctant to part with a ball in the time-honoured tradition when Thomas hit his 18th, 19th and 20th goal of the season in Bolton’s first-ever visit to London Road.
Bolton boss Phil Neal offered to pay the £35 himself to his opposite number Noel Cantwell after his side had completed their biggest victory away from Burnden Park since beating Sheffield United 5-1 at Bramall Lane in 1977/78.
“I don’t mind putting my hand in my pocket if it causes any problems,” said Neal, who pointed out that Thomas had gone about asking for the ball in the ‘customary manner’.
Peterborough had refused, claiming that every single expense now had to be accounted for, but that was not going to spoil Thomas’s day after he found out that the hat-trick had also put him on to 100 career goals.
Back in the pre-internet days such milestones were sometimes subject to debate, and it emerged that one of his old Lincoln goals had been errantly put down to a team-mate.
But with a century in the bag, Thomas said his sole intention was to try and get the goals that could get Bolton back into the Third Division at the first time of asking.
“I was disappointed last season at Preston when I only got 28 because I thought that was my best chance to reach 30,” he told The Bolton Evening News.
“I know all sorts of things could stop me doing it this season but I think it’s a realistic target alongside promotion.”
Peterborough boss Cantwell was complaining about the two penalties which helped Thomas to the sixth hat-trick in a goal-laden career, establishing a 2-0 lead at the break.
Neal had spent an uncomfortable 20 minutes after half time before he shot from his seat in the directors’ box to get a message to his team to plug an alarming defensive gap.
David Felgate had to be at his best to keep Posh at bay, in particular their two on-loan front men, Dale White and John Kerr.
Home fans had chipped in to help pay the strikers’ wages but they may have considered asking for a refund when each missed gilt-edged opportunities to bring their side back into the game.
Neal shifted Robbie Savage and Gary Henshaw – who was on for Steve Thompson – to give his side more defensive stability and put them back in control of the game.
The pitch was heavy and had only been passed fit with a morning inspection but Neal’s decision to play Trevor Morgan instead of Ian Stevens paid off, and the big man was an effective spearhead who was as responsible as anyone for bringing Stuart Storer and Nicky Brookman into the game in the latter stages.
The pair combined well for the third goal with 13 minutes remaining. And another Storer surge six minutes from the end drew a foul from Mick Halsall, the midfielder who had turned down an approach from Neal in the summer to move to Cambridgeshire. That allowed Thomas to drive home the fourth past keeper Kevin Shoemake.
It completed the double over Peterborough that season - our archive pictures show Thomas in action during the 2-0 win against Posh in August 1987 when he again scored from the spot. Steve Thompson added the second.
After the 4-0 drubbing, Thomas didn’t quite make his 30 target but did add another hat-trick to his list, scored in a 6-0 hammering of Newport County three months later.
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The Bolton striker finished the season on 26 in all competitions but it would be Savage’s decisive goal at Wrexham that would be most remembered with the Wanderers fans.
As he recalled in the paper some years later - Thomas has mixed emotions about the memorable day at the Racecourse Ground.
“I remember that final game at Wrexham and the high at the end but before that I had the low of being sent off for the last 10 minutes," he said.
“I remember I stood to block a free-kick and I had already been booked when I got a second caution.
“I said to the referee ‘you can’t send me off for that’ but he did. It was the longest 10 minutes ever watching from the bench. But what a fantastic feeling at the end, with our fans running on the pitch to celebrate.
“We had a great team spirit and they were more friends than team-mates."
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