Twenty Years Ago Today: Magilton Hits Hat-Trick in Play-Off Thriller
Sunday, 17th May 2020 06:00
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Blues' 5-3 play-off semi-final second leg victory over Bolton at Portman Road, regarded by many fans as the greatest Town game ever. TWTD recently spoke to hat-trick hero Jim Magilton about his memories of that match.
Having been 2-0 behind after 26 minutes of the first leg, two Marcus Stewart goals had seen the Blues fight back to draw 2-2 at the Reebok Stadium and Magilton says the squad went into the second match confident.
“Coming away from there with a 2-2 draw, you’re thinking ‘We’re in this, we are definitely in this’.
“We were depleted, there were injuries here, there and everywhere. Mogga [Tony Mowbray] had gone off, Johnno [David Johnson] had gone off. We had real injury worries going into the second game. But they had injury worries, Eidur Gudjohnsen was a major talisman for them.
“That night, I remember the build-up was fine. We had to make adjustments. Wayne Brown came in and Mogga passed fit, Johnno passed fit, Gudjohnsen not. Gudjohnsen was injured. That was the deciding factor psychologically.
“I remember thinking ‘We’ve got this’ because he was massive for them. Even though they had good players to come in and they were a strong squad, that was massive, psychologically I think that was massive for us. Psychologically that weakened them and strengthened us. And then obviously the game takes care of itself.”
The match had everything, three penalties for the Blues - Magilton scoring one and missing one and Jamie Clapham converting the third - two red cards for the Trotters and a scoreline of 5-3 on the night and 7-5 on aggregate.
“Emotionally, physically, all the words that people use when they talk about watching a game of football. That was captured that night, by both sides,” Magilton remembered.
“They had great experience, they had real seasoned pros who, if you allowed them to bully you, [would get the better of you].
“There was no question they came to bully us. Well, they picked on the wrong man that night, they were never going to bully me. And I maybe had to stand up the younger, lesser experienced lads.
“They were not going to bully us, that was the one thing. And I kept saying it in the changing room, ‘We’re not going to be bullied, do not be bullied this group’, because they had that about them, they could be intimidating. They had big figures, big characters.
“So first and foremost we’re not going to be beaten on that. We were a little bit erratic in our defending, which had always been good. Mogga coming back helped but we weren’t at our brilliant best, if you like, defensively we looked as if we were going to concede goals.
“So going into the game I was thinking ‘We’ve got to score more goals than these tonight’. That wasn’t a reflection on our defence because overall we defended really well, one of our strengths was our defensive quality.
“I just felt going into the game, a game like that, it just had that feel that we were going to have to score more goals than them. And it set it up lovely.
“The night of the game was back and forth, back and forth, two teams going hammer and tongs. Good players after good players and it was just a fantastic game to play in, aggression, combative, but quality, there was real quality. If you see the goals, the goals are quality. We were up against it right up to the dying seconds that night.”
Going into the final seconds of the 90 minnutes Town looked to be tasting play-off semi-final disappointment for a fourth successive year until Magilton, already having netted twice, scored what’s certainly the most famous goal of his career.
“It was the three old stagers, the three eldest,” he recalled. “Veno gets the ball, so right away I’m thinking ‘Where’s Mogga?’.
“Mogga’s peeled off so I’m thinking that Mark Venus isn’t going to miss him, Mark Venus is going to drop it in somewhere in and around the vicinity of Tony Mowbray. ‘Get around Tony Mowbray’, that’s my only thought, ‘Get around him’.
“In those seconds I knew the ball was going to drop to me. I knew it, and I’m not joking. I just knew the quality he had in his left foot.
“And Mogga’s header, when you look back at Mogga’s header it’s one of the best set-up headers you’ve ever seen. He’s strained every sinew, every sinew in his neck to drop it.
“He’s dropped it and honestly, people never think about that, but the knockdown is unbelievable.
“I left the marker, Franck Passi, he came on as a sub, and it kind of dropped to me and as it dropped to me I knew I was scoring. I knew I was scoring because it felt like slow motion.
“As it dropped, ‘Knee, volley, knee, volley’ that’s all I kept thinking, and aim through the defender’s legs.
“I know people are going to laugh, but I just thought it was either going to sit up and I was just going to volley it over his head, or I was going to drill it down. Those were the two options going through my head at the time, in that clarity.
“I had so much clarity going into the game. I had a full understanding, one, that I wasn’t going to be bullied and, two, that I was going to play, we had to be able to play, we had to show that we could stand up to them not only physically and aggressively but also that we had the technical ability to win the game, which we did.
“We had technical footballers in the team. It was just giving them the confidence to go and say ‘Right, us against you, fine’. We had really good players.
“As it dropped I’ve taken the second option, down, then through his legs, goal and the place erupted. It still raises the hairs on the back of my neck. You could feel the relief more than anything, the emotion.
“There was great quality, it was a great game to play in and then obviously there was extra-time.
“We dominated extra-time, they went down to nine men, they lost their discipline and we had taken over, we had taken charge of the game, albeit with Wrighty having to make a great save from Claus Jensen. That gave them something more to hang on to.
“They were a top side and they deserve credit for that night too because they were so close to going to Wembley. And they went up the next year.”
After Clapham had netted the night's third penalty and Robbie Elliott had joined Mike Whitlow in making an early exit, Martijn Reuser burst away to score the 109th-minute goal which finally sealed the Blues' place at Wembley.
As referee Barry Knight - who to this day remains Bolton fans' bête noire - blew his whistle, fans invaded the pitch and chairman David Sheepshanks paid tribute to manager George Burley over the PA.
“It really hit home for me the next day," Magilton reflected. "I ran off the pitch that night, I didn’t really get involved with the fans, I ran straight off, straight down the tunnel, so I didn’t really get involved in that, I was honestly focused on Wembley, the greatest day of your football life, wanting to play in a Wembley showpiece.
“I was thinking ahead, but the next morning it hit home for me. I’d picked up a knock and I remember parking in the car park at Portman Road and getting out and the queue for tickets was out in the street.
“And when I got out it was class, it was brilliant, it was lovely from the supporters. I got out of my car and they clapped and that was unbelievable.
“They were obviously waiting on tickets and they clapped, so that was emotional for me. Alright, the night before was special but the morning after, it was lovely, it was a lovely gesture and I’ll always remember it and it was something I always really considered a lovely thing that they did for me.
“They clapped me in and I was limping and there were a few hangovers that morning, everybody was reliving the night before. But definitely the focus was on Wembley.”
You can read Jim’s thoughts on that day at Wembley and the rest of his career with the Blues both as a player and a manager in last month's extensive four-part interview: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.
Photo: Action Images
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