24 April ~ Over 30,000 Bolton fans made their way to Wembley with great hope and excitement ahead of our first FA Cup semi-final for 11 years. We were doing well in the league and had just smashed West Ham 3-0, playing some cracking stuff in the process. All at Wembley thought that we stood a good chance against a Stoke City side against whom we had a reasonable recent record.
What was to follow can only be described as humiliating. Four of the five goals we shipped were absolute gifts of comical defending. At full time I would estimate approximately 5,000 Bolton fans were still in the ground, the rest having begun the long trek home. The post-mortem continued long into the night, and ever since on forums and in pubs. Team selection, tactics, fitness and nerve have all been questioned and dissected. The Bolton News described it as "arguably the most disappointing result in the club's history" and it is impossible to argue. The local paper ran a set of fan interviews outside Wembley, in which the younger fans would be angry, as though spoiled by recent success, while the majority were too upset to criticise and direct blame.
Personally, I like what Owen Coyle has said. The Bolton manager hasn't come out with any gubbins about how "we're still eighth and it's a good season really". He's angry and embarrassed and knows he needs to restore his reputation as well as the club's. If he is truly a good manager he'll use this to make us stronger as a club, possibly to rid the mantra of "a good day out" and build a side that, within our constraints and restrictions, are winners.
So we face Arsenal today with the chance to bounce back. We must see a reaction from the players. A win, or a hard fought draw, will see us kick on – with a sixth-place finish still a possibility. Another loss, and I wouldn't be surprised to suffer the same fate for the rest of the season. Ticket sales seem to indicate we'll have a higher-than-average attendance, which is a good sign – the club needs the support of the fans now. Chris Manning