Today’s flashback is to May 2003, beating Middlesbrough on the final day to stay up.
Yesterday, in our series looking back on big moments at the Reebok, we relived Jay-Jay Okocha`s wonderstrike against West Ham in 2003. Today, we don`t venture too far from that – a few weeks later we went into the last day of the 2002-03 Premiership season still in trouble, but in the driving seat to stay up at the expense of West Ham. We had Middlesbrough, they travelled to Birmingham. A win for us, and whatever the Londoners did at St Andrews would be academic.
Bolton made a very good start on the day. Per Frandsen had a chance from the edge of the area after 10 minutes, let in by a Boro defensive mix-up, and it went in. We were 1-0 up and we could relax, a little bit. 11 minutes later, Okocha stepped up and beat Mark Schwarzer with a free kick. We were barely a quarter of the way through the game and 2-0 up. We were staying up.
It`s never quite that easy though, and a familiar face would return to make things a little bit nervy for the last half-hour. Michael Ricketts, as it turned out, made a terrible career choice by moving to the Riverside from us in that season`s January window.
He hadn`t scored for them yet, but annoyingly put that right on this day. Coming off the bench at half-time, he may well have been offside, but nonetheless he got on the end of right-back Stuart Parnaby`s low cross and suddenly it was time to brick it again. The radios could be tuned back in, the text alerts (remember them?) could be checked again.
Big Sam`s men were made of stern stuff though, and they were able to keep their composure and get those vital three points. West Ham could only draw, and we`d secured a third season of top flight football for the first time in more than a generation. Cue those famous scenes of Allardyce and Okocha dancing on the pitch, one probably doing it with a bit more grace.