Morley the scourge of Wanderers
9th Feb. 1997
URI GELLER, Reading’s celebrity supporter, was in attendance, which probably explained the remarkable twist yesterday’s match took in the second half, when the loss of their goalkeeper, Bobby Mikhailov, inspired the team from the wrong end of the First Division to raise its game and defeat the runaway leaders, courtesy of a 14-minute hat-trick from Trevor Morley.
After 45 mundane minutes devoid of notable incident, the entertainment quotient suddenly went through the roof once Bulgaria’s World Cup goalkeeper had to withdraw, after damaging knee ligaments in making a brave save at the feet of Bolton raider Scott Sellars.
Three goals from Morley, enjoying something of an indian summer just short of his 36th birthday, were enough to win it, but only just. Alan Thompson and John McGinlay equalised twice, and it needed some eccentric heroics from Jimmy Quinn, Mikhailov’s unlikely stand-in, to deny Bolton a point.
It was not a good week for the Premier League wannabes. Knocked out of the FA Cup by little Chesterfield last Tuesday, they have now had their cushion at the top of the First Division trimmed to nine points by Wolves, who won 2-0 at Huddersfield. They missed Nathan Blake, their suspended striker, who would surely have found a way past Quinn’s improvised, cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof goalkeeping.
That said, they were comfortably the better team until Mikhailov’s injury stood the game on its head. Quinn, Reading’s joint player-manager, readily admitted as much, saying: “We only started playing after Bobby went off. Until then, we just couldn’t get the ball down and pass it.”
Bolton’s Colin Todd is still happy with his lot as manager of the best team outside the Premier League, but this was not a game he enjoyed. “At half-time I couldn’t see us losing,” he said. “But when the keeper went off we relaxed our grip a bit. The worrying thing is that we’ve suddenly started shipping goals. That’s got to stop.
“The only way we can miss out on promotion now is by throwing it away, which is what we did here.”
Bolton are still odds-on favourites to regain the Premier League place they lost last May after just one season up there, but it was a shock to the system to have their hot streak in the First Division halted after seven straight wins just four days after giving away three goals, and their place in the PA Cup, to Second Division Chesterfield.
Without Blake, they regrouped in 4-5-1 formation, using an extra midfielder, John Sheridan, and McGinlay on his own up front. Seeking to play composed, constructive football, they were the classier, more cohesive side in the first
half, and might have been three goals to the good by its midpoint.
Their first couple of opportunities came to nought through two impressive reminders of Mikhailov’s international pedigree. First he got down smartly to save Thompson’s close range shot, then he timed his advance from his line to perfection to thwart McGinlay. The third chance should have left the goalkeeper with no hope, but Thompson, set up by Gudni Bergsson’s right-wing cross, blazed hurriedly wide.
An unremarkable game of modest attainment caught fire, unexpectedly, in the second half. Sellars threatened to provide the goal so badly needed when he was clean through, only to lose possession to another brave intervention by Mikhailov, who sustained his injury in going down at the winger’s feet.
Unable to continue, he handed the goalkeeper’s jersey to Quinn, which was one for the “fancy that” brigade. In the corresponding fixture at Burnden Park, which Bolton won 2-1, McGinlay took over in goal when Keith Branagan was injured. In safely collecting his first cross, Quinn promptly laid out one of his own defenders, Paul Bodin, setting the Keystone Cops tone for what was to follow.
Losing their goalkeeper spurred Reading to redouble their efforts, and 11 minutes into the second half they went ahead, sparking the goal rush with their first decent strike of the game. And what a good one it was, too, Morley turning with wrong-footing dexterity on the edge of the penalty area before shooting with cool deliberation into the left-hand corner of Gavin Ward’s net.
Game on. Bolton were level within five minutes when Thompson took advantage of Quinn’s unfamiliarity with the gloves, shooting in from 25 yards with the goalkeeper transfixed. Back came Reading, ahead again in a matter of seconds when Gerry Taggart’s clumsy, scything challenge on Michael Meaker enabled Morley to score from the penalty spot.
The crowd were still in celebratory mood when McGinlay cut in from the left and curled a shot across Quinn and into the far corner for 2-2.
Still the goals came, Morley completing the third hat-trick of a career now in extra-time, and a memorable win, when Barry Hunter headed on a Bodin corner from the left for the nomadic striker to drive the ball home at the far post.- Quinn somehow held out in a frantic, edge-of-the-seat finale. It had been some transformation.
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