West Ham Utd v Bolton: preview

Our first home Sunday fixture of the current campaign pitches us up against Bolton Wanderers in a re-run of the 1923 FA Cup Final that even I am too young to remember.

Man of the match that day was a white horse called Billy that cleared the overspill crowd from the brand new Wembley pitch, thus ensuring that future Cup Finals would be all-ticket forever after. Calling it the "White Horse" final always seemed a bit harsh on the PC in the saddle to me - as if the horse would have done the job without PC George Scorey's assistance. Still it was the start of a tradition - as the late Stan Mortensen might have attested having been the only player to score a hat-trick in a Cup Final that became universally known as "The Matthews Final".

More topically, Wanderers were much in the news last week for being on the receiving end of a dodgy penalty awarded for to the home side by Rob Styles. Quite why a dodgy penalty awarded to the home side at that venue should be newsworthy eludes me - especially in view of the identity of the ref. Let's face it it's not exactly a rare occurrence is it? Still "worst decision ever" has a nice ring to it if you're a headline writer. Watford might beg to differ though, though to be fair to journos "Worst decision ever. In the Premiership. This week." does lack a certain snappiness as headlines go.

Wanderers boss Gary Megson was quite red in the face about the whole affair. Megson took over the reins at the Reebok just under a year ago, having spent a whole six weeks as manager of Leicester City. Megson arrived in the wake of a fairly disastrous spell at the wheel by Sammy "Offside You Idiot Thomas" Lee. Prior to that Sam Allardyce was in charge. Allardyce is credited with bringing in all the scientific stuff that they have at the Reebok, including pro-zone and any number of analysts and ologists. Sadly none of them came to the conclusion that football is "The Beautiful Game" and they are still, eighteen months after Allardyce's departure, rightly or wrongly, more noted for the "robust" nature of their football rather than for being pleasing to the eye. Allardyce of course spent the later months of his tenure telling everyone within earshot that he was going to sue the BBC for libel over the Panorama "Bung" programme before the deadline for doing so passed quietly away with no lawsuits materialising.

Megson kept Bolton up last season with 16th place being confirmed on the last day of the season. A section of the Reebok support was less than happy with the situation though, especially given Allardyce's habit of obtaining top ten finishes. Mutterings about the management still persist, especially in view of the Trotters' indifferent start to the season which sees them hovering just outside the relegation zone on goal difference. Their one win to date came on the opening day of the season against fellow strugglers Stoke and their only other point came in a 0-0 draw at home to West Brom. Otherwise Fulham, Arsenal, Man Utd and even Newcastle have picked up maximum points from their encounters. Still, they are above Spurs, but then again, who isn't? Reports suggest that they had a decent second half at the Emirates but their efforts were overshadowed by a number of poor challenges, notably that of Davies on Clichy which was probably more deserving of red than yellow. Similar challenges were also the norm at Old Trafford last weekend, though it was a well-timed effort from Samuel that caught all the headlines from yet another Styles brainstorm.

In goal the visitors will start with Jaaskelainen, a 'keeper who has the annoying habit of playing well against us more often than not. The central defensive pairing last weekend was comprised of former Villa youngster Gary Cahill and ex (amongst others) Newcastle and Portsmouth stopper Andy O'Brien who, between them, will make it an interesting afternoon for Carlton Cole if nothing else. The unusually-named Danny Shittu and Joey O'Brien have also featured this term and, in the absence of any injury news as I trawl the interweb it appears that Megson may still be searcing for the right blend at the back. On the left flank they have been playing another former Villa man, the also unusually-named - and luckless - Jlloyd Samuel with Icelandic international Gretar Steinsson picking up the right. Matt Taylor has been injured of late but may be close to a return having made the racing car seats at Old Trafford.

Bolton have favoured a five-man midfield of late, with Ricardo Gardner taking up the left having pushed up from left-back since the start of last season. Former Arsenal kid Muamba is preferred in the middle alongside Gavin McCann with the aforementioned Kevin Davies on the right. Kevin Nolan has the "just behind the main striker " role and, against Man Utd at least, Swedish international Johan Elmander had the lone striker role, though it is not apparently unknown for Elmander to play on the right of midfield with Davies moving up front. Matt Taylor has been injured of late but may be close to a return. Portuguese U21 striker Ricardo Vaz Te has featured only from the bench this season having spent almost all of last term injured and Heidar Helgusson is another striker available to Megson.

As for us, Bellamy's lively appearance from the bench last week may mean a long-awaited start for the Welsh international and, if that is the case, DiMichele is likely to be the one to drop to the bench. However, Zola may elect to give Bellamy another week or so before risking a start in which case DiMichele, who had an ineffective match at Craven Cottage, will get another chance at the Boleyn, Otherwise I'd expect us to remain unchanged as the players continue to grow into the 4-3-2-1 system that has been adopted since the new management arrived. We are likely to see some robust challenges and we'll need to see Etherington reacting like he did last week to the assault on him by Konchesky, whose foul turned Matty into a man possessed. In the past Matty has perhaps had a tendency to hide after a kicking and I don't see the opposition doing him too many favours this weekend, so last week's reaction was a welcome sight. Mark Noble will need to keep his discipline in the middle as well. As mentioned, Carlton Cole will be relishing the battle up front and we are likely to be in for an interesting clash of styles.

This will be a match in which a decent start will go a long way to settling matters and we'll need to impose our passing game on the match early on. However, confidence is high after two consecutive wins and, with a number of players clearly enjoying themselves a lot more under the current regime, I'll take us to win 3-1 to send the players - and supporters - into the international break with smiles on our faces.

Enjoy the match - and the break!

Last Season: 1-1 - a severely depleted Hammers side failed to capitalise on McCartney's wonder strike and missed a number of good chances before conceding a late equaliser to Nolan.

Danger man: Mike Dean - one day the Premiership's worst ref will tell us exactly why he felt it necessary to ruin so many matches - ours more than most. Presumably in an expensive ghost-written book. We won't be buying it, we just wish he'd go away and start writing it now.

Look out for: Bolton Fans - not usually noted for turning up in numbers, there may be more of them than normal since the club is laying on free coaches. Score 10 bonus points for spotting a White Horse - with an additional 10 if you're sober at the time.

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