MORE than a few eyebrows were raised when Phil Parkinson named Aaron Wilbraham as his starting centre-forward in Wanderers’ biggest game for more than a decade.

Putting a 38-year-old with just two previous league starts, and one goal, as the focal point of an attack which had scored just twice in its previous seven games looked a gamble of epic proportions.

And though with hindsight we now know it worked out just fine in the end, as Wilbraham scored a goal which will be forever remembered in the Bolton history books as the one that saved the club from relegation, Parkinson was acutely aware of the consequences had his decision backfired.

“If it hadn’t come off I’d have had to be escorted out of the ground with security protecting me,” he grinned, the intense pressure of the last few weeks finally melting away.

“It’s hard to explain – but it’s the case with so many teams. Romelu Lukaku at United, Firmino at Liverpool, Morata at Chelsea – you need a platform to play into. Sometimes that player might not score, but the players around them might get chances.

“It’s about having that outlet ball, whether it’s someone with extreme pace at the top of the pitch or extreme physicality. Any team, whatever style you play, you need it. We lacked it of late and Albi brought that against Forest and we looked more potent as a result.

“Even when we were getting beat 2-1 no-one could argue we’d had chances in the game.”

Though it seemed unfathomable at the time, the choice to stick with 4-2-3-1 in a must-win game and use Wilbraham as a target man was very much a case of Parkinson going back to the formula which had worked so well earlier in the season.

Since Gary Madine’s departure Wilbraham had been given more football. His late goal at Sheffield Wednesday had also had a whiff of Roy of the Rovers about it. But the former Bristol City man had struggled to prove he was more than an impact substitute – and though fans were singing his name until the wee hours of Monday morning, it had not always been that polite.

“We knew it was a risk, and we knew there could be negativity,” Parkinson said. “I am so pleased for him because we’d spoken the other day about the fans and whether it affected him but he said ‘not a chance – I’ve had stick at every club I’ve been at!’

“Albi has come in at 38, hadn’t started since Derby and not really started much all season, and produced when it matters most. He deserves to be remembered for a long time at this club.”

The paucity of options up front says a lot about the situation Parkinson has had to deal with during the Championship campaign.

Connor Hall – plucked from the Under-23s’ final on Friday night but not included in the squad – was an unfortunate casualty of the day. His inclusion, in truth, would have been just as big a gamble at the opposite end of the age scale.

To have steered Wanderers to promotion from League One and safety in the Championship having spent nothing in four transfer windows is an achievement few managers can have on their CV.

But Parkinson knows the way forward for Bolton is to find investment this summer and give themselves a better chance of avoiding the last-day nerves next season.

“When was the last time the club spent money on transfer fees?” he said, knowing the answer was more than three years. “This gives us a chance to rectify that.

“In any division you are only as good as the players at the top of the pitch, your attacking players.

“We need to push on as a football club. And that will cost money.”

Ken Anderson has made no secret of his intention to look for funds this summer - but he admits survival was achieved in the end with a commodity money cannot buy.

“I look at the teams who have spent tens of millions and wonder how we are going to compete with them. We can only do so with character, togetherness and spirit.

“Come the end of the season the table doesn’t lie. We’ve got the position we said we wanted.”