Why the EFL must take a hard line on Bolton Wanderers' postponement of Doncaster Rovers clash - and it is bigger than either club

When Bolton Wanderers took the unilateral decision to call-off their game with Doncaster Rovers at less than 36 hours notice, it presented the EFL with a decision - and a mammoth one at that.

Monday, 4th November 2019, 10:21 pm
Updated Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 12:13 pm
The University of Bolton Stadium

Initial talk centred on the reasons for the postponement - concerns over the welfare of the youngsters Bolton were forced to field as financial turmoil left them without senior players.

But as the organising committee dilly-dallied over how they would deal with the postponement, the ultimate fate of that one game became increasingly significant.

The reason a decision was not immediately forthcoming was down to a lack of precedent - or certainly a recent one.

Under Football League governance, there have been no examples of such an incident in recent memory, giving the board of the league nothing to base their decision upon.

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And that very fact makes whatever decision they deliver on the Bolton-Rovers situation vitally important.

The outcome of this scenario will be undoubtedly recounted should it ever occur again.

And it is for this reason that the EFL must take the hard line - awarding Doncaster the win.

Before beginning to explain, it must be emphasised this has nothing to do with the fortunes or misfortunes of Rovers or Bolton.

It is bigger than that.

And it must be noted at this time that the EFL appear keen to order a rearrangement of the fixture.

However they choose to punish Bolton along with that, rearranging the fixture would be a foolish measure.

Say, for example, the EFL rule the game should be rearranged and Bolton be deducted three points as punishment.

Then what is to stop another club taking the decision to postpone a fixture and accept such a punishment for themselves.

Imagine a League One side reaches the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, one game away from a lucrative and historic outing at Wembley. Their league campaign has been average, in no danger of relegation but highly unlikely to trouble the top six.

What is to stop that side from postponing their nearest league fixture to give them ample preparation time and the best opportunity to reach the semi-finals? A three point deduction will not derail their season, but a weekend off may well make it.

Imagine also, the team they are due to play that weekend are going well, chasing a play-off place. But that postponement gives them a fixture pile-up at a vital moment in the season and it ultimately proves too big of a hurdle.

This is where the much talked about integrity of the competition comes into play.

However poorly that integrity has been protected in the past, any opportunity to safeguard it must be taken.

It is why Bury could not be allowed to continue operating in League One with more and more postponements until the club got itself in order. It reached the stage where the welfare of the many outweighed that of the stability of a single club.

Ultimately, the EFL must protect the clubs where there is no wrongdoing.

In this scenario, whatever view taken on Bolton’s reasoning for postponing the game, the manner in which they went about it - without serious consultation with Rovers or the EFL - means they were in the wrong.

For that reason, and for the future stability of the competition, the only solution is to award Rovers the result.