Bolton Wanderers: Relegation Dogfight or Mid-Table Greyhound Race?
When I was asked to submit some sort of analysis of Bolton Wanderers' season and their chances of survival in this tightest ever Premier League season, I had just been pained to see a scrappy, but typical salt-of-the-earth English scrap which ended with Bolton losing to Stoke City 2-0.
So you would think pessimism would reign in this piece. But that would be an invalid assumption.
Despite being squashed away to Stoke this week, Bolton have still maintained decent form, especially at home. Along with Spurs, they have the best form in the bottom half of the table, winning three out of the last six games.
In fact, only West Ham, outside of the top three teams, can match that form, although admittedly Bolton need desperately to halt the slide in their upcoming game against table neighbours Fulham, who also found victory impossible to come by on Wednesday night.
Victory for Wanderers against Fulham may propel them to a lofty eighth place, although that depends on other teams. It will, however, move them above Fulham, who still have a game in hand.
Although, Fulham are not Wanderers' main concern, should they be looking down the table. Catchers-up like Spurs and Hull, who have both managed to pick up points this week, could easily take advantage should Bolton not manage to continue a rich vein of form.
But the Trotters can feel somewhat safe, knowing that all but one of the “unwinnable” games, such as Gary Megson believes they are, against the “top four” have already been and gone. So Chelsea apart, every game can be won in the run-in to the end of the season.
Teams like West Brom, consigned by most to certain relegation, will put up a hard fight, as will Middlesbrough on their day. However, their day didn't come against Spurs and Whites fans will be hoping for similar luck at the Reebok Stadium in April against them.
The Teesiders will unfortunately face a run of games, including Manchester United and Arsenal as well as a high-flying Aston Villa.
Hull City are also coming up to “squeaky bum time,” as Phil Brown calls it, with games against near neighbours Newcastle, Middlesbrough, and Sunderland leading up to a vicious run of games towards the end of the season including Aston Villa, Liverpool, and Man Utd on the final day.
Looking back on Bolton’s fixtures, only Man City, Chelsea, and Aston Villa out of the 10 teams left to play are above Bolton in the table, and so the players’ and manager’s assessment that Wanderers should be looking up the table, rather than below, are rather apt.
With the returning Johan Elmander likely to hit form after a comeback from injury, Kevin Davies relishing a return to goalscoring form alongside him, and rejuvenated wannabe international Matt Taylor swinging in free kicks and crosses for them both, who could bet against Bolton staying in mid-table mediocrity for the remainder of the season, I ask you?
Well, there may be one flaw (by no means am I being blind enough to suggest this is the only one)! Bolton's away form is nothing short of abysmal. To actually find an away win for Bolton, we would have to take ourselves all the way back to last year when they trounced Sunderland 4-1 to end Roy Keane’s reign as Sunderland boss.
The last point away from home was gained in a terrible giveaway against local “rivals” Blackburn Rovers at the end of January (Bolton drew 2-2 after surrendering a two-goal lead).
So if we factor in this record, half of Bolton’s 10 remaining games are at home. Say Bolton win four out of the last five home games but none of their away games, this would leave us with 45 points, definitely safe from relegation in this close league table.
Hopefully, Bolton’s chances won’t be so slim, and the team can look up the table trying once again to reach the “Europa Cup” spots (formerly UEFA cup—changing next season), or at least finishing high enough to gain a substantial amount of prize money to better our chances of improving next season’s squad.
But we Bolton fans do live in a dream land!
If only Jay Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff got in a time machine and showed us the magic again!
Back in reality, I think Bolton will survive. Their experience from last term should stand them in good stead, not to mention tremendous team spirit in adversity and decent home form, which will both count massively towards reaching the 40-point safety threshold that many think will mean safety.
Whether that will be enough in this close-run season, I’m not too sure, but I definitely hope so.
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