BOLTON’S brave cup fighters were confident lighting would strike twice on Merseyside . . . and so it proved.
A year after Bruce Rioch’s upwardly-mobile Wanderers pulled off their famous “White Hot” FA Cup giant-killing at Anfield, they repeated the feat at Goodison Park in almost identical fashion – drawing the third-round tie at Burnden Park before winning the replay against all the odds on Everton’s own hallowed turf.
“Here we go again!” screamed the headline after the 1-1 draw – Mark Patterson’s equaliser early in the second half cancelling out Paul Rideout’s 44th-minute opener before Wanderers squandered a series of chances to have settled it at the first attempt.
To outsiders it was advantage Everton but that had also been the case the previous season when Liverpool came from 2-0 down to take the tie back to Anfield where they were expected to put the Wanderers – then a third-tier side – well and truly in their place.
Of course, it did not pan out that way in 1993 and the 1994 vintage Wanderers were not only inspired by that famous victory but, having been promoted to the second tier, they were a better side and better equipped.
Cue “White Hot 2”.
Two-nil down in the Goodison replay after Stuart Barlow netted his second of the game just after half time – they didn’t quite manage to replicate their overwhelming dominance of the Liverpool game. But although not as comprehensive a victory, it was no less deserved and, in some ways, a greater achievement.
This time it was all about passion, desire, never-say-die spirit and an over-riding will to win.
In front of a crowd of 34,642, Rioch’s charges produced a performance of character that saw John McGinlay (who else?) start the fightback with a sweet strike and with the pendulum swinging dramatically, lifelong Everton fan Alan Stubbs pounced on a rare Neville Southall fumble to snatch an equaliser six minutes from the end of normal time to take the replay to extra-time.
Owen Coyle’s killer finish in the first half of the extra period – the product of the wing wizardry of the hero of Anfield David Lee – was confirmation, if it were needed, that there was something special about the Bolton teams of that era.
McGinlay – scorer of the first goal of the Anfield replay 12 months earlier – took just as much pride, if not more, in the Goodison win.
“It was better because we did it the hard way,” said the talismanic Scot.
“At 2-0 down nobody would have fancied us.”
Even the eternally optimistic Rioch was honest enough to admit: “At 2-0 I thought it might not be our day.”
But the Burnden boss knew better than anyone that his side could never be under-estimated – as they showed again in the fourth round when they completed their giant-killing hat-trick at Arsenal – White Hot 3!
For Stubbs, who was on the Goodison books as a schoolboy and was now developing into an influential figure in the Burnden set-up, this was a career highlight.
“The greatest night of my life,” he said.
“Scoring against Everton is unbelievable.
“But I always thought we could do it after the first one went in.
“A lot of teams would have been written off, but not us.”
Coyle was perhaps the unlikeliest of heroes at that particular time.
The Glasgow-born striker signed from Airdrie the previous summer, he had been carpeted by Rioch for critical comments he made in an article in a Scottish newspaper and was not exactly flavour of the month.
Never one to tolerate a player stepping out of line, Rioch had taken the hard line with his fellow Scot, dropping him from the squad for the previous Saturday’s league game at Millwall. But, having made his point, he restored him to the starting line-up for the replay and got just what he wanted on the night.
“He got a rollicking on Monday, he was on the teamsheet on Tuesday and on the scoresheet on Wednesday,” Rioch said, reflecting on the amazing turn of events.
“His criticism centred on the fact that I used players like pawns.
“It was a problem but we had the managerial make-up to resolve it and not hold it against him.
“We didn’t take him to London last week – in fact we didn’t speak to him for a week because he spoke out of turn.”
Coyle, who had saved Wanderers blushes with two goals in the first round against Gretna, claimed he had been misrepresented in the offending article and insisted he wanted to put the controversy behind him.
“All I said was I wasn’t happy about not being in the team. But it’s something I want to forget about now,” he said as his winner was being toasted by 8,000 travelling Bolton fans.
“All that matters is the result – and to come from behind against any Premier League side is a great achievement.”