Bolton Wanderers boss Ian Evatt dedicated his side’s victory to club legend Frank Worthington as the Trotters made it 13 games unbeaten to derail Forest Green’s automatic promotion hopes.
Eoin Doyle’s 16th goal of the season catapulted Bolton above rivals Forest Green, who dropped out of the top three for the first time since January.
Worthington died on Monday at the age of 72 following a long illness and the Bolton players wore black armbands to mark his passing.
And Evatt felt the Saturday lunchtime victory was the perfect tribute to the former England striker, who was a hero to many in the late seventies – helping Ian Greaves’ side to promotion from the old Second Division and then finishing as the top scorer in the First Division in his second season.
Evatt said: “We lost a massive club legend this week and he’s in our prayers. We hope we’ve done him proud.”
Hosts Rovers suffered a body blow within two minutes when top scorer Jamille Matt was stretchered off with a hand injury after colliding with Ricardo Santos.
However, Mark Cooper’s side produced the first shot in anger on 19 minutes – Kane Wilson drove into the box to induce a gloved response from Matt Gilks.
In a tepid game, chances were at a premium, but Wanderers broke the deadlock on 39 minutes. Nathan Delfouneso beat Baily Cargill down the right to arrow a pin-point cross onto the boot of Doyle, who volleyed home with ease.
Bolton had second-half penalty claims ignored when Oladapo Afolayan went to the ground following a tangle with Udoka Godwin-Malife as Evatt’s side comfortably saw the game out.
“It was a huge three points,” added Evatt. “It was a challenging game between two good teams – a game of chess really.
“These tight games are usually sealed by a bit of quality which is what we saw. That one real moment in the game was the goal, but we don’t score rubbish goals.
“We found solutions both on and off the ball.
“It feels good to be up there in the table, but unless we’re there at the end of the season I won’t be happy. We just have to focus on ourselves and what we’re doing.
“The lads are hungry, determined, and want this more than anything. We don’t want to disappoint anyone and just want to get the job done. Winning can become an addiction.”
“We’ve given ourselves a fantastic chance with another hard-fought victory, but there are nine cup finals to go.
“If we keep doing what we are doing, no one can stop us.
“You can see from the top of the football pyramid to the bottom that the big teams challenging at the top of the table, they’re never open, they’re always tight and there’s usually one bit of quality that separates teams.”
Forest Green boss Mark Cooper was left licking his wounds after revealing star striker Matt will miss the rest of the season.
He said: “Jammer (Jamille Matt) has a very significant hand injury, which will require a lot of surgery and he’s out for the season. We will have to find a different way to do things like we did when we lost Carl Winchester to Sunderland and we will now without big Jammer, but we will support him.”
Cooper insisted his side did enough to win the game but felt Doyle was a significant difference.
He added: “We had some good chances and should have won the game, but the big difference was Eoin Doyle – that’s why he earns the money and gets the moves and that’s why he’s done what he has in his career – the only difference today was he had one sniff on goal and one chance and it’s a good finish, but bad defending from us.
“Kane Wilson Taylor Allen and Odin Bailey had numerous good chances and it’s frustrating – that’s three games without a goal now
“We’ve had some significant injuries, but were not going to cry – time for the players to step-up and until we get Ebou Adams and Nicky Cadden back, now is the time for the boys that haven’t played much to take a chance and give us impetus and energy, going into the last nine games.”