Bolton Wanderers secured their Sky Bet Championship status in dramatic fashion at Macron Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Adam Le Fondre scored in the second half to give the hosts the lead but Nottingham Forest turned the game on its head with goals from Ben Osborn and Jack Colback. With ten minutes to go plus added time, Wanderers were heading for the drop to Sky Bet League One but two goals in a minute from David Wheater and Aaron Wilbraham meant that it was a day no fan will ever forget.
Phil Parkinson made six changes to the team that were beaten at Burton Albion last weekend. Mark Little came in at right-back for Jon Flanagan who didn’t make the 18-man squad. Andrew Taylor dropped to the bench with Antonee Robinson coming in at left-back and David Wheater came back in to partner Mark Beevers in central defence with Dorian Dervite dropping out of the 18-man squad.
Filipe Morais came off the bench at Burton after nursing an injury in the days leading up to the game, but he also came back in to start on the left-hand side of midfield ahead of Craig Noone who dropped to the bench. After playing in an attacking midfield role last weekend, Darren Pratley started in a holding midfield role alongside Karl Kenry and Josh Vela came in to play in the advanced midfield position, taking the place of Derik. Finally, Aaron Wilbraham was given the nod to start as the lone striker ahead of Adam Le Fondre who dropped to the bench.
Bolton started the game on the front foot buoyed by an electric atmosphere inside Macron Stadium but the first chance of the game belonged to Nottingham Forest and it was a gilt-edged one. Ben Osborn was played in down the left-hand side and his low cross was lacking a connection from Ben Brereton just five yards out with the goal at his mercy.
Phil Parkinson’s men had their first chance on the quarter hour and the majority of the ground thought it was in. Filipe Morais delivered a superb corner into the box and the towering figure of Aaron Wilbraham connected with a header which made its way towards goal and somehow Stefanos Kapino kept the ball from going over the line.
The visitors came into the game with nothing left to play for in terms of their fortune at either end of the table but they came looking to take the lead and shortly afterwards, they had their next chance. Tendayi Dariwka was found in space down the right-hand side and his cross to the far post was turned wide by Brereton, who again missed a very presentable opportunity.
The two teams were going blow for blow with each other in the early stages and Bolton went a whisker away from taking the lead midway through the first half. Karl Henry picked out the run of Josh Vela with a clever lofted pass and his cutback made its way into the path of Morais who side footed a shot marginally wide from 15 yards out.
On the half hour mark the stadium erupted when the ball found the net, but Wilbraham was denied the opening goal by an offside decision after turning the ball in from close range when Kapino failed to keep hold of Antonee Robinson’s stinging drive. Seconds prior, the big frontman was denied by the post after meeting Sammy Ameobi’s cross with a header.
The next chance in an end to end first half belonged to Nottingham Forest. Joe Lolley moved towards the edge of the box and worked the ball onto his left foot before seeing a deflected effort loop up and against the bar with Ben Alnwick rooted to the spot.
Just before the break, Wilbraham was in the thick of the action once again with another headed opportunity. Morais attempted a cross from the left-hand side which was blocked but the ball was worked to Robinson who swung a cross to the far post where the 38-year old striker was there to head narrowly wide of the mark.
Just seconds before the half-time whistle, there was time for one more Wanderers’ chance and it belonged to Morais with a free-kick after Vela was felled 25 yards from goal. The Portuguese winger beat the wall with a dipping effort, but the ball didn’t quite dip enough to go under the crossbar and the two teams went into the interval with the score goalless.
Phil Parkinson was forced into a change at the break with Ben Alnwick going off injured to be replaced by Mark Howard and just before the hour mark with the score still goalless, he made an attacking change by replacing Darren Pratley with Adam Le Fondre.
He made an impact almost immediately and his intelligent flick into the path of Wilbraham gave the latter a shooting opportunity, his thunderous strike from the edge of the box beaten away by Kapino in the Forest goal. Le Fondre came close to turning in Morais’ low cross before the ball came out to Mark Little who hammered a volley a yard or so over the bar from just inside the box.
Wilbraham was in the thick of the chances all afternoon and he went close again shortly afterwards; Vela did well to read a Nottingham Forest pass out of the defence to start an attack and he played the ball wide to Morais who saw a cross find the Whites forward, but he couldn’t capitalise with a header at the far post.
Halfway through the second half, Wanderers took the lead. Karl Henry moved into space and saw an attempted low shot deflect into the path of Le Fondre and 10 yards out, he rifled an unstoppable volley into the top corner past Kapino to lift the roof of the stadium.
The ecstasy inside the ground was short-lived as minutes later, Nottingham Forest equalised. Picked out in space just outside the box to the left, Osborn unleashed a fierce low drive across Howard and into the far bottom corner to bring the visitors level in a must-win game for Phil Parkinson’s men.
Forest completed the turnaround with little over ten minutes on the clock when Jack Colback fired a low shot from the edge of the box past Howard. Wanderers though were down and staring relegation in the face but they were by no means out, and found a leveller with five minutes plus added time left on the clock; Wilbraham caused problems in the box and cut the ball back to Le Fondre who kept a cool head and squared the ball to Wheater who planted the ball past Kapino from eight yards out.
Le Fondre turned provider again seconds later as Wanderers completely turned the game on its head. Running the channels excellently, he clipped a ball into the centre and Wilbraham got in front of his marker and guided a header superbly into the far corner past a rooted Kapino. The roof of Macron Stadium had been absolutely lifted off and after enduring a hefty five minutes of added time, Bolton Wanderers retained their Sky Bet Championship status. Unbelievable scenes!