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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » One-nil to the Wanderers! Single-goal victories and promotions down the years

One-nil to the Wanderers! Single-goal victories and promotions down the years

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

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Wanderers paraded to promotion on Saturday by crushing Crawley 4-1, but their march to glory had been built on single-goal victories: four in February, four in March and four in April helped haul the Whites from 20th to third place and success.

As promotion came close, Ian Evatt – despite being hired for his expansive style – admitted he would be happy to win all his remaining games 1-0 if it got the job done. But how true is the idea that his side’s promotion was down to slender margins? How do the numbers stack up compared to other promoted sides this season – and to triumphant Trotters seasons of the past?

Evatt’s men won 23 of their 46 games this season – 17 of them by single-goal margins, of which 10 were by the 1-0 scoreline.

Fellow promoted sides Cheltenham and Cambridge each won 13 games by a single goal, with eight and four of them respectively being 1-0. Indeed, no League Two team could match Wanderers for either single-goal margins or 1-0 wins.

However, the same can’t be said of other divisions.

Like Wanderers, Blackpool finished third after winning 1-0 on 10 occasions – but as they’re in League One, it’s the play-offs for Neil Critchley’s men.

Meanwhile, in the Championship, title-winning Norwich and second-placed Watford both racked up 17 single-goal wins – the same as Bolton – while the Hornets won 1-0 on no fewer than 11 occasions, one more than Wanderers.

But enough about other teams. What about famous Wanderers promotion-winners of the past? Who do you think was more likely to fashion a narrow win – a team helmed by Phil Parkinson or Colin Todd, by Sam Allardyce or Bruce Rioch? The answers may surprise you…


Remarkably, Evatt wasn’t the first manager to get Wanderers promoted under an embargo. Phil Parkinson did admirably to bounce Bolton back into the second tier, built on a solid foundation of the David Wheater-Mark Beevers defensive partnership which kept out most opponents while doing no little damage up the other end from set pieces.

Indeed, Parky’s runners-up won 25 games to Evatt’s 23, but while their first five wins were all by the narrowest of margins – including a 1-0 opening-day triumph over eventual champions Sheffield United – they eventually won 12 games by one goal (compared to Evatt’s 17), including six 1-0s (compared to Evatt’s 10).

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After coming painfully close in his first season back ‘home’ in Bolton, Sam Allardyce returned Wanderers to the top flight in 2001 with a team that won more games away (14) than at home (10), frequently relying on the blistering counter-attack speed of 21-goal Michael Ricketts.

However, while Allardyce’s promotion team edges out Evatt’s on number of wins (24 v 23), narrow wins were comparatively rare: just nine single-goal margins and only four 1-0s, even if two of those were in the final four games of the regular season (against Norwich and Barnsley).


Few seasons can ever have been as glorious as Bolton’s 100-goal, 98pt return to the top flight under Colin Todd: goals galore, title glory and a wonderful mid-season contretemps with pie-flinging Wolves fans.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, having hit their groove immediately after selling cult hero Sasa Curcic on the eve of the season, Todd’s team won more times (28) than Evatt’s comeback heroes. Half of those victories were by a single goal, and five of them were 1-0s – including the home victory over Manchester City that set the tone for a season of wonder.


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Bruce Rioch’s three-season spell was bookended with promotions, the second coming in a play-off final back at Wembley only a few weeks after Wanderers had more than played their part in the League Cup final against Liverpool. But for all the glorious memories, that 1995 promotion to the recently-rebranded Premier League was built on slender victories.

Of Rioch’s 21 wins, 13 were by a single goal, of which an Evatt-equalling 11 were 1-0 – including all of the last five league wins. Wanderers didn’t score more than one in any of their last 13 regular-season games but like Evatt’s team, when it mattered most they bagged four – in their case at Wembley – to seal promotion.


Like a few managers, Rioch didn’t immediately start winning; in autumn, some fans called for his head. But like Evatt, Rioch made astute mid-season signings, John McGinlay and David Lee, to inspire a phenomenal streak on the run-in to seal promotion at his first attempt.

But how narrow were those margins? Well, while autumn seemed to bring fortnightly 4-0 wins, spring brought a string of narrower squeaks. Wanderers won 27 league games, of which 14 were by a single goal, and five were 1-0 – including two in the last week as Julian Darby’s midweek Stoke-beater moved Bolton above Port Vale and McGinlay’s nerveless final-day penalty sealed promotion.

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Phil Neal laid the groundwork for Rioch’s renaissance, helping Bolton bounce back immediately from their first-ever spell in the then Fourth Division. But, like Evatt, he didn’t do it the easy way – and relied on a final-day victory to seal promotion in third place.

Cobbled together for buttons as Wanderers dealt with ongoing financial restrictions – sound familiar? – Neal’s team registered 22 wins, of which half were by a single goal, and seven were 1-0. Chief in the memory among these was the last-day win at Wrexham when a goal by Robbie Savage – don’t worry kids, not that one – sparked scenes of joyous mayhem on the away terrace.


A decade before and a world away, Bolton finally sealed promotion back to the top flight after two near-misses and a 14-year wait – at the time, the club’s longest-ever absence from the top table. Wanderers’s double-W strikeforce of Neil Whatmore (19 goals) and Frank Worthington (11) did the damage, but again it was no walk in the park.

Ian Greaves’s side won 24 times (in 42 games, unlike the 46-match campaigns of all other seasons mentioned here). Of these, 13 – including the first four – were by single goals, and seven were 1-0s – including the promotion-clinching win on a legendary Tuesday night in Blackburn.

1972/73: JIMMY’S GEMS

Bolton had drifted and dropped into the Third Division for the first time ever, but a hero was at hand. Gentlemanly Jimmy Armfield, not long after winning the World Cup with England and a while before becoming a radio commentary legend, rallied his troops to a title-winning campaign.

This was one of Wanderers’ more leisurely triumphs: of their 25 wins from 46 games, only nine were single-goal victories, and only four were 1-0. But one of them, on a cold Tuesday evening in late January against Wrexham thanks to Paul Jones, ended a four-game winless run and sparked a run of seven wins in nine games that put Bolton into a top spot they never really looked like surrendering.

One-nil wins can be funny like that. Although apparently the least impressive of victories, they can be the building blocks to greatness, from Armfield to Allardyce and onwards: even the great entertainers Rioch and Todd knew the value of a 1-0.

Ever the perfectionist, Evatt will be wanting to see more end product from his freshly-promoted team next season – but he and we should be glad that after a grim few years which threatened to wipe the club out of existence, Wanderers are finally winning not just games but hearts and minds. And that’s the greatest victory of all.

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