Phil Parkinson Reveals Biggest Decision of Bolton Career

  • February 11, 2019 | By Chris Mann
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Phil Parkinson has revealed selecting Aaron Wilbraham ahead of Adam Le Fondre for last season's final game against Nottingham Forest was the biggest decision of his career.

Wilbraham had joined Wanderers from Bristol City the previous summer, a move which puzzled those watching on from the stands, and had scored just once in 26 appearances - of which only two were from the start of Championship matches.

Le Fondre, on the other hand, had found the net six times during a frustrating campaign which had seen him largely restricted to a substitutes' role.

With supporters clamouring for his inclusion, Parkinson resisted temptation to start Le Fondre and instead went for the experience of Wilbraham - a decision which was ultimately rewarded in the most dramatic of circumstances, as the then 38-year-old scored the decisive goal that sealed a 3-2 victory and secured the Trotters' place in the division for another year.

"In January of last season, we started to find a way to win," Parkinson told The Coaches' Voice.

"We were picking up results. Then, on the last day of the window, we sold our top scorer, Gary Madine. We had 24 hours to try and bring in a replacement.

"But in the January window, you either pay a player over the odds, or you get the players no one else really wants.

"That was a low point.

"The next day, the training ground was so flat. But we sat the players down and told them: 'We believe we've still got the players to stay up, and we're going to fight tooth and nail to achieve that.'

"As the manager, you always have to think about how you are presenting yourself to the players.

"That's why I don't like coming in the day after a game, because emotions are running high. There are things you would say on a Sunday that you definitely wouldn't say on a Monday. I need Sunday on my own, with my family, so that by Sunday evening I'm working things out. Putting them in perspective.

"The final week of last season was a mad one. We'd lost to Burton away and the fans had really turned on us all.

"The day before the last game against Nottingham Forest, I pulled all the lads together on the training pitch. There was an incredible amount of tension.

"(I said) 'Listen, if we go down tomorrow, we'll all still be alive the morning after. We'll still have our health, our families. We'll all be going on a holiday. It's not the end of the world. What is important, is that we are ready to go full out to try and get a result.'

"We thought long and hard what team to pick for that game.

"We had a player, Aaron Wilbraham, who the fans didn't like. He was a 38-year-old striker, coming towards the end of his career. We'd signed him because we didn't have any money and he was a good character.

"But the fans never really understood him. They also absolutely loved one of our other strikers, Adam Le Fondre, who at times we found difficult to fit in the structure of the team.

"During the week, I had many chats with the staff - and we decided to leave Le Fondre on the bench and play Wilbraham in this big game. I knew that, if it went wrong, the repercussions would be incredible. In my heart, I felt that it was the right call.

"It was probably the biggest single decision I've had to make.

"This is no word of a lie: I was envisaging him being carried around the pitch shoulder-high after the game, having scored the winning goal. I had that picture so clear in my mind.

"And it happened. Wilbraham did score the winning goal, there was a pitch invasion, and there he was, being carried around the pitch. Just like I envisaged.

"Before the game, I told myself that, if we won, I'd go into my office to look at the other results first. At the whistle, I turned to my assistant Steve Parkin. He was saying: 'We've done it, we've done it!'

"(I asked) 'Are you sure?'

"I walked off and went in my office to put the TV on. I was watching the results come through when the picture changed. Suddenly I was watching the pitch invasion outside, at our ground.

"I was just stood there on my own with a beer.

"I left it about five minutes, then thought I had better go out and join in. I wanted to be sure - someone could have scored a last-minute goal.

"It was an incredible day. Despite all the problems Bolton have had, we've had two amazing last days of the season - getting promotion, and then that day last season.

"It was a summer's day, so on the drive home I said to my wife: 'Let's send a message out and invite all our friends round.'

"The next thing I know, I'm in an old pair of shorts and T-shirt, cleaning the garden furniture on my hands and knees. Not quite how I envisaged celebrating staying up, but it was a brilliant night. It's great when it goes your way."

Sky Bet League One Standings

Pos Team Pld Pts
15 Shrewsbury Town 26 30
16 Cambridge United 25 30
17 Bolton Wanderers 25 29
18 Lincoln City 25 28
19 Fleetwood Town 25 28
View Full Standings >>


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