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Bolton Wanderers v West Ham Utd

Filed: Friday, 20th February 2009
By: Preview Percy

And so to Horwich, current home of Bolton Wanderers, for our second Saturday 3pm kick-off in a row.

Back in October, Wanderers inflicted a somewhat fortunate defeat on us at the Boleyn in a match that Robert Green will probably want to forget. Two of the three goals conceded in the 3-1 defeat were down to him whilst the third came from a free-kick awarded for an offence that only existed in the mind of the corrupt and incompetent Mike Dean – just for a change. At the time of that match we were in 6th place, ten places above Bolton. Since then we’ve been down to the relegation zone and back up to 8th whilst Bolton’s form has mirrored ours and they currently lie in 14th place on 27 points, 6 behind us and 4 above Blackburn, who have a game in hand in the drop zone.

Current form has not been the greatest for the Trotters, who have won only one of their last 8, that being hilariously at home to Tottenham. The run includes league defeats to Wigan, Arsenal, Man Utd, Liverpool, and Everton as well as a cup exit to Sunderland. The only other point in that run came from a 2-2 draw away at Blackburn. All in all not a run that has improved the popularity of boss Gary Megson amongst sections of the Bolton faithful. Megson’s response – calling fans “pathetic” – was predictably reported in the tabloids as a blast on Wanderers fans in general rather than the dig at a few supporters it undoubtedly was. However given that many fans actually base their view of the modern game by what they read on the back pages, the outburst was probably ill-advised from a manager of a team with a poor current form record to defend.

If Megson did have any thoughts of courting popularity by some clever manoeuvring during the transfer window you might have thought that the transfer of long serving club captain Kevin Nolan to Newcastle may not have been quite the way to do it. However, Nolan himself had not been without his critics at the Reebok and both he and Megson were widely moaned at for his continued selection, despite the absence of anything vaguely resembling form on the midfielder’s part. One observer described the midfielder as having become “like a black hole, where counterattacks go to die” so getting £4m for him from the Geordies might have been a shrewd bit of business.

Coming in the other way has been Mark Davies, from Wolves and, continuing the trend of recent years at the Reebok, a couple of jobbing chaps on loan from abroad in Seb Puygrenier and Ariza Makukula. Frenchman Puygrenier, on-loan from Zenit St Petersburg, is described as a “ball-playing” centre back whilst the Portuguese Makukula is a tall forward forming a “large and larger” partnership with the new club captain Kevin Davies. Attempts to bring in midfielder Manuel Veloso from Sporting Lisbon failed as a potential £12m-£14m deal evaporated just before the window shut (or a week before if you’re Arsenal). It was probably this deal to which Megson alluded when he described a possible signing as being akin to “putting a tiara on a shire horse”. As a quote it’s one of the better (if more bizarre) ones from a manager this season, though quite how the Bolton squad feel about being likened to shire horses is anyone’s guess and the RSPCA were unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

Having exited the cup to Sunderland, their last outing was a couple of weeks ago where they went down 3-0 at Everton with a display described by Megson as “a complete waste of people being paid a week’s wages”. He’s certainly got a way of motivating people hasn’t he?! In goal that day was the club’s longest –serving current player Jussi Jaaskelainen, who has that most irritating of habits in that he always seems to have an absolute blinder whenever we play them. In front of him was a back four comprised of Puygrenier, O’Brien, Cahill and Samuel. Nicky Hunt is listed as possibly being available for selection following a thigh injury, along with the amusingly-named Danny Shittu should Megson decide he wants more value for money from the wages paid to his defenders this week.

Davies picked up a knee injury and a yellow up at Goodison the other week. However he is expected to be available for selection in the middle that, with the departure of Nolan lacks a bit of experience. Davies’ fellow sufferers against Everton were Muamba, Steinson and Taylor, who, as taker of the free-kick for their third goal at the Boleyn, was the main beneficiary of ref Dean’s permanently confused mental state when the two sides last met. Alternatives in the middle include the Pole Smolarek and Tamir Cohen, though Cohen is more of a fringe player and has not featured so far this term – partly as a result of injury but mostly not. Older readers may remember his Dad Avi who played for Liverpool in the 80’s.

As mentioned, the strike-force of Makukula and Davies is not one that suggests subtlety and the possible return from injury of another big unit in the form of Swede Elmander underlines the basic nature of the game played at the Reebok. Another alternative, the 6’2” tall Ricardo Vaz Te, is a long-term absentee whilst Mustapha Riga, who at 5’10” is possibly regarded as some sort of circus oddity in Horwich, made a sub appearance at Everton.

We have injury problems of our own. The knock picked up by Carlton Cole exposed our attack as a bit short on depth as Tristan and DiMichele struggled to make an impact on what was a far from impressive Boro’ back four at the weekend. Cole’s ankle isn’t said to be that serious a problem – and some (admittedly unlikely) reports suggest he may even be available for this one. If not, there will have to be a significant improvement in both the work-rate and finishing of the front pair this weekend if we are to come away from the Northwest with anything from this one.

In the middle, Savio showed some promise last weekend and clearly Zola sees him more of a midfielder than as a striker in the Bellamy mould, if his replacement of Noble over the last few weeks is anything to go by. Noble has seemed a little out of sorts of late and there must be a temptation to start the little German, though whether this is a good idea against a Bolton side often described as “uncompromising” remains to be seen. Behrami, an absentee last week, is believed to be available for selection and his return will be a most welcome one. Kovacs will also be in contention.

At the back Lucas Neill will sit this one out as he will be serving a one match ban and this may mean a first start of the season for Jonathan Spector. Other than that the side picks itself, assuming there are no further mishaps between the time of writing and kick-off.

Even a few weeks ago, before we suddenly found our strike-force severely depleted, I wouldn’t have been too optimistic about this one. The Reebok, one of the most soulless of grounds I have ever visited (and I’ve seen a match at the National Hockey Stadium!) has never been one of our more happy hunting grounds and our record there in recent years is none too impressive. Although we’ve been playing some good stuff away from home over the weeks past experience tells me that this weekend is not going to be pretty – when is it ever at Bolton? A fit Carlton Cole would have been in his element in this one but if he’s not about it’s going to be hard and the most optimistic prediction I can go for is for us to sneak a fingers-crossed 1-1 draw – but for Pete’s sake don’t stick any money on it on my say so!

Enjoy the game!

Last season: Lost 0-1 A first start for Jack Collison was about the only bright spot as we picked up yet more injuries in another forgettable trip to Horwich.

Danger Man: Kevin Davies – according to Megson we’ve got it all wrong and his skipper is not a dirty player but is actually a shy retiring little thing who is supposedly the most fouled player in the league. Yeah right.

Look out for: Shire horses wearing tiaras – though if you actually spot one go to the nearest St John’s Ambulance point and tell them your pint was spiked!

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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