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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » Kevin Nolan recalls Bolton's stunning 5-0 win at Leicester City - 20 years on

Kevin Nolan recalls Bolton's stunning 5-0 win at Leicester City - 20 years on

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

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Wanderers had suffered two false starts in the Premier League but this time they meant business.

Of the three teams promoted to the top flight for the 2001/02 campaign, few fancied Sam Allardyce's Bolton to be anything other than cannon fodder.

Jean Tigana's stylish Fulham had the sex appeal and were spending big, Graeme Souness and Blackburn Rovers the pedigree - it was after all just six years since they had lifted the title.

Bolton? Well, in line with Eddie Davies and Phil Gartside's mantra that the bank would not be broken, the club's biggest outlay had been to spend £650,000 on Henrik Pedersen and bring in Japanese striker Akinori Nishizawa on loan. You could understand the scepticism.

Every member of the team that walked out at Leicester's Filbert Street on August 18, 2001, had played in Division One the season prior. A heady mix of untested youngsters and seasoned veterans, there wasn't even a great deal of expectation to better Peter Taylor's Foxes, who were banking on new signing Dennis Wise injecting some steel in a squad that had wilted badly the previous year.

But what Leicester - and the rest of the Premier League - had not reckoned on was that this incarnation of Bolton Wanderers were built on stronger foundations.

Much was owed to the team spirit Allardyce had fostered in the previous season, culminating in a fine play-off final victory against Preston North End, but the Wanderers boss had also steadily began to bolster his backroom, introducing the scientific principles which would eventually make the club stand out in the crowd.

The international stars wouldn't start to arrive until October - first with Bruno NGotty, then in the New Year with Youri Djorkaeff, Fredi Bobic or Stig Tofting.

Until then the spotlight would be hogged by an eclectic bunch and a young lad from Toxteth determined to show he had an eye for goal.

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"When we went up everyone was talking about the other two teams," Kevin Nolan told The Bolton News, needing absolutely no reminder of what had happened against Leicester that day.

"You'd got Blackburn Rovers who had David Dunn and Damien Duff, these exciting young players who were going to be Premier League stars, and then there was Fulham who had spent all that money on players like Edwin van der Sar, had Jean Tigana in charge and Louis Saha scoring goals. People were like 'and then there's Bolton Wanderers' but it suited us.

"We knew there had never been a season where all three sides had stayed up and, being honest, I think the other two looked like they could do it comfortably. We knew we'd have our work cut out but it was never about the individual players at Bolton. People might not have been able to list off the team that came up but we were together, it was a real team.

"Sam liked to set targets and he sat us down and looked at the first 10 games, told us we needed 15 points then our chances of staying up would increase by 'X per cent' and he'd break it down like that.

"It was exact. We weren't there to mess around or have a nice year going around the big clubs and then back down again. We wanted the job done."

Wanderers' chairman Phil Gartside had been disappointed that just 15,500 season tickets had been sold at the Reebok for the Premier League return but the take-up for Leicester had been strong and close to 4,000 made what would be their last visit to the ageing ground.

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The Premier League had lost some of its early innocence in the years Bolton had been away but Leicester had at least preserved some of the gimmicks which had summed up the changing face of English football.

"I remember running out and just seeing all glitz and the glamour - cheerleaders and fireworks and a big atmosphere, it was different than I'd been used to when I got into the team at Bolton," Nolan said."It was a dream for me to be playing at that level of football so to get off to the start we did was just amazing.

"I was a young lad and I'd only scored one goal the season before. So 15 minutes in Per got down the right and clipped a cross in and I got my head on it - the ball went up and then dropped in under the bar and it just went daft.

"I knew exactly where my dad, my brother and grandad were so I just naturally ran over but I looked so stupid. I think I was in shock but I was celebrating like it was the World Cup Final."

Michael Ricketts had grown more accustomed to finding the back of the net. His muscular barge past full-back Callum Davidson and rasping finish past Tim Flowers into the shallow netting remains another satisfyingly nostalgic watch-back.

Then Frandsen took centre stage. There had been times in the previous season where the midfielder had looked a shadow of his former self. His return from Blackburn Rovers gave him the regular football he craved but his form never quite reached the same heights it had in his first spell.

Linked with a move to Derby, there had been reports claiming he had not seen eye-to-eye with Allardyce over his fitness. But this truly was a day when everything he touched turned to goals.

Next up was a training ground free kick routine, a chip flicked on by Paul Warhurst and swept in by Nolan - who may not have even started the game had Gareth Farrelly been fit.

There was still time for a fourth before half time. This time Frandsen was willed to shoot from a free kick by a Foxes wall barely worthy of the name. He did, and Tim Flowers looked up to the heavens wondering what he had done to deserve such ropey defending.

The creaky Filbert Street scoreboard showing a four-goal lead, Allardyce was able to contain and control in the second half.

Frandsen grabbed another impossibly simple free kick as the home fans turned their anger on manager Taylor. Indeed, every national match report focussed more on the Foxes' failure than Wanderers' dominant display.

"I don't think anybody has given us enough credit for how good we were against Leicester but our stats can prove it. We had 20-22 shots on goal," Allardyce added pointedly as his team turned their attention to a home visit of Middlesbrough. "But if we can take on that level of performance we could get a lot of results, perhaps not against the big boys, but who knows ... we can make life very difficult for them."

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Blackburn were beaten 2-1 at Derby County - the Rams' new Italian signing Fabrizio Ravanelli on target - while Fulham's fashionistas were swept aside the following day by Manchester United and two goals for their new arrival, Ruud Van Nistlerooy.

Pundits continued to scoff at the rather more earthy names of Ian Marshall, Paul Warhurst, Simon Charlton and Mike Whitlow in the weeks and months to come. Match of the Day's resident pragmatist Mark Lawrenson was so sure the Whites were heading back to Division One he accepted a bet to shave off his famed moustache if they survived the drop. He did because they did.

By the end of the season the dressing room blend had started to change, incorporating the foreign legion that would take Wanderers on to unimaginable heights.

Nolan would straddle the two generations but he admits the workmanlike team that earned those precious early Premier League victories and met Allardyce's targets will always hold a place in his heart.

"You had young lads like me, Ricky Gardner and Michael Ricketts that nobody had really heard of and then the pros who had been around before like Dean Holdsworth, Paul Warhurst, Gudni Bergsson, Colin Hendry, Anthony Barness," he explained. "They set the bar and told us 'this is where you have to be if you are going to stay up.'

"Eventually the club started bringing in players and saying 'here's a chance to play in the Premier League' - you help us, we'll help you.

"That's when people started taking notice. We stepped up a level."

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