Wanderers are on the longest unbeaten run of any club in the Football League and will be looking to stretch their streak beyond a dozen games when they visit Forest Green Rovers this weekend.
Barnsley’s defeat against Sheffield Wednesday last Saturday meant that Ian Evatt’s side – who have not sampled defeat in 60 days at time of writing – are now on the country’s hottest run going into the final stretch of the season.
They have also edged halfway towards a new club record for unbeaten games in the league, which currently stands at 23.
Phil Neal’s Bolton went 21 weeks without defeat between October 1990 and March 1991, a run which transformed them from potential relegation fodder to play-off contenders.
The modern-day Wanderers have undergone a similar reinvention since beating Leyton Orient 2-0 at home on January 30, pushing from 19th in the table to their current position of fifth.
Defender Ricardo Santos claimed earlier this week that the team’s goal was to remain undefeated to the end of the campaign, which if successful could take the Whites to the very edge of a new club high.
Starting with Wanderers’ record-breaking run under Neal, we look back at the longest unbeaten league runs of the last 30 years to see just how the current team matches up.
NEAL’S MARVELS (23 games)
Wanderers had lost six of their first nine games in the 1990/91 season, getting a little extra joy from a two-legged victory against Huddersfield Town in the Rumbelows Cup.
But it was only after they narrowly exited the competition to First Division Coventry City did things start to change for the embattled Burnden boss and his side.
An inauspicious 2-2 draw at Gigg Lane thanks to a Steve Thompson goal and a Tony Philliskirk penalty got them on their way, after which Stuart Storer scored the only goal of another tight game at Leyton Orient.
Suddenly, the run gathered pace. Philliskirk’s goals began to flow and the likes of Scott Green, Julian Darby and his ever-willing foil up front, David Reeves, started to collect wins like they were shelling peas.
On New Year’s Day, Paul Comstive even managed to score twice direct from a corner in a wind-assisted 4-1 victory against Bournemouth.
By March Wanderers were promotion contenders but the run came to a shuddering halt with a 4-0 defeat at Mansfield Town. And though they responded instantly with Darby and Reeves netting in a 2-1 win at home to Wigan, they fell agonisingly short of the top three.
Defeat to Bury, Exeter, Bournemouth and John Beck’s Cambridge United in the final few weeks of the season meant they were nudged into the play-offs on goal difference by Grimsby Town.
Philiskirk scored home and away to beat Bury in the semi-finals but Neal’s side ran aground against Tranmere at Wembley, and with it went Neal’s best shot of taking the club up.
BURNDEN ACES (15 games)
Few records survived intact during Wanderers’ incredible 1996/97 season under Colin Todd and they certainly waved goodbye to their spiritual home at Burnden playing some breath-taking football.
Their longest unbeaten run of the campaign started in mid-February with a 2-2 draw at home to Sheffield United with Mixu Paatelainen and Chris Fairclough on the scoresheet.
Some of the victories thereafter are still talked about to this day: A 7-0 rout against Swindon Town, the 2-1 win at Manchester City that made sure of promotion, the perfect farewell against Charlton Athletic.
The unbeaten run actually spilled over into the following season as Nathan Blake scored a winner against Southampton in the Premier League followed by a brace at Coventry.
REEBOK REVELS (14 games)
After relegation from the top-flight, Colin Todd’s side had made a strong start to the 1998/99 campaign, boosted by a prolific scoring streak from Icelandic front man Arnar Gunnlaugsson, who compensated for the departure of fans’ favourite, Nathan Blake.
They went four months unbeaten between November 14 and February 21 despite the club having to sell Gunnlaugsson to Leicester City to balance the books midway through the run.
Thankfully, another Icelander, Eidur Gudjohnsen, had picked up the slack. Forging a productive partnership with the more experienced Bob Taylor and Dean Holdsworth, he helped the Whites go on a dominating run including a 4-0 win against Bury and a 3-0 rout against Crystal Palace.
Much like Neal’s side before them, the team peaked a little early. And after the run came to an end with defeat at home to Crewe, Bolton rather limped into the play-offs, beating Ipswich over two legs but disappointing against Watford in the final.
ALLARDYCE ASTERISK (14 games)
Had it not been for the influence of a certain Barry Knight, a 14-game entry into this list would have been much more straightforward.
Wanderers finished the 1999/2000 season like a train and after a 4-3 win against Walsall on April 8 aided by a couple of goals from Bo Hansen, they went on a great run under new boss Sam Allardyce which spilled over into the following season.
There was an eight-goal draw against West Brom, a 3-0 win at Huddersfield Town and a 2-1 home win against old foes Wolves, thanks to goals from Claus Jensen and Eidur Gudjohnsen.
Unfortunately, if play-off games are included, or even those played into extra time, Mr Knight’s antics at Portman Road means it should not strictly make the list.
BRUCE’S BONUS (13 games)
Spurred on from that magical night at Anfield, Bruce Rioch’s Wanderers hit a purple patch in February 1993 that saw them all the way to promotion.
John McGinlay scored from the spot in a 1-1 draw at Blackpool to start the run and for 10 of the next 12 games, either he or strike partner Andy Walker was on the scoresheet.
When Walker’s season came to a premature end at home to Swansea City, the team’s unbeaten run followed quickly afterwards. But with Julian Darby stepping into the breach up front, the team recovered to claim third spot and a deserved promotion.
THE BEST OF THE REST (LEAGUE ONLY).
12 GAMES – January 30, 2021 to ? (current)
11 GAMES – April 21, 2001 to September 8, 2001*.
11 GAMES – August 8, 1998 to October 17, 1998.
11 GAMES – September 10, 1996 to November 2, 1996.
11 GAMES – November 2, 1993 to January 1, 1994.
10 GAMES – October 17, 1992 to December 28, 1992.
*Including a League Cup game against Walsall, the unbeaten run is extended to 12 games.
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