25.02.11 – Saturday – 3:00pm
Barclays Premier League
Location: St James’
Early Prospects: Good
Pre-match Gut Feeling: Tight win.
Waffle: Feel like you’re sitting more comfortably now? Two away games in four days yielded four points – points which are of huge strategic importance to our season given the timing and the positional relevance of the teams we claimed them from. Defeats at Blackburn and Birmingham, which would have been all too possible to a Newcastle of recent history, would have left us with two nervous looking home games against tricky opposition – instead we arrive at this game arguably only needing another seven points from our remaining 11 games – a tally which with some professional performances we could realistically achieve in our next three home games. This should remain our prime target by all means – mathematically a Europa League place is possible but realistically it is asking a lot of a threadbare squad which, ironically, is on the whole being kept in reasonable condition by our lack of cup participation and recent, well timed, free weekends. Furthermore, achieving a European place would only increase the burden on the squad, without of course a major increase in numbers on the playing squad. Joey Barton’s prediction of needing an extra “5-7 players” would certainly need recalculation…
As for our opponents, they arrive into this game in indifferent league form having only won two of their last eight league games. Their poor away record has much to do with this, having won twice, drawn four and lost seven on their travels – six of those seven coming in a rotten sequence up to this game which means they last won away from the Reebok at Wolves on 13th of November. However, the record is slightly deceptive as Wanderers have won their last two away (both in the FA Cup) – having only lost once in their last six when all competitions are concerned. Having looked to be making a bold attempt to storm the high table of the Premiership earlier in the season (being as high as fifth toward the end of November) their form since has seen them slip slightly – enough so that a win would see us leap-frog them (and the makems if results went our way). Here’s hoping.
The Gaffer: The savior of Bolton Wanderers footballing reputation. Coyle had a long and fruitful career as a striker, almost entirely across his native Scotland, without ever really breaking the top echelons of the game – peaking briefly at Bolton in the mid nineties when he was part of the Burnden Park squad that achieved promotion to the Premiership. However his stay was brief and he was soon back in Scotland, swapping clubs in a manner that would make Robbie Keane look settled – managing not to stay in the same place for more than two seasons by going through a nomadic nine clubs in 12 years. Internationally, he did manage a solitary cap for the Republic of Ireland, qualifying for selection via his ancestry after being overlooked for selection by Scotland (insert joke about Scottish national selection here…). Upon ascension to management Coyle continued his love of relocation, spending two years at St. Johnstone, then three years at Burnley – where upon guiding a team low on resources but high on footballing gusto his reputation flourished and was offered a position at former club Bolton to replace Gary Megson. Within little over a year he has transformed Bolton from a footballing siege weapon into a slick modern attacking team – from a non-footballing blight on the league to a team that are more than worthy of their improved position. Managerial Career Win Ratio: 45% (36% with Bolton)
The Team: A vast improvement of previous incarnations offered by deluded and self-infatuated Sam Allardyce, and arguably more so by that which was guided by Gary Megson. Bolton now offer an attractive mix of a more continental passing style coupled with a traditional British directness – managing to produce over what would generally be expected of their team on paper by keeping movements simple and tempo high. Their style of play has lead to them scoring regularly, but surprisingly not prolifically (with, ahem, one exception this season…cheers for that Bolton), and with 19 goals between Johan Elmander, Kevin Davies and on-loan Daniel Sturrigde they aren’t short of goalS from their forwards. Much of this can be attributed to the underrated Chung-Young Lee, who with seven assists has been responsible for as many goals as the much coveted Charlie Adam. Talents in their ranks don’t stop there, with Bolton forming a balanced and solid first XI with the bargain pair of Martin Petrov and Stuart Holden, the long standing Jussi Jaaskelainen and the highly sought after Gary Cahill.
Pitch (far left) shows Stuart Holden’s positioning against Sunderland (A) – an example of Bolton’s fluidity even away from the Reebok. A further example of this philosophy is shown (immediate left) in Bolton’s build up play for their superb goal against Blackpool – not abandoning the style even while trailing at home in the 89th minute when the goal was scored.
- Danger man: Kevin Davies: creates space, provides a focal point for attacks – generally does all the dirty work to help make Bolton’s fluid attacks more effective. Despite being a centre forward by trade, Davies spends much of his time pushed far up on the right flank to target to maximise his aerial dominance by challenging the opposition full-back, equally tempting his marking central defender out of position and generally causing havoc playing with his back to goal. His position is not fixed however (as the pitch shows), roaming to which ever position of the pitch requires his physical presence at any given point in a game.
Pitch right shows Kevin Davies roaming with a majority of passes to team mates short and simple to bring them into play.
- Possible weak point: Bolton’s fluidity creates chances but also creates space for the opposition to exploit, mainly on the counter attack. Although this is an unlikely game plan for us to adopt at home it is worth keeping in mind, particularly for regaining the ball through interceptions midway inside the home half. Also, like Birmingham, Bolton’s strength in central defence is slightly undermined by comparatively weaker full-backs – in particular Paul Robinson, swapping sides from his natural left back position to right back against Fulham in the FA cup a week ago to cover for the injured Sam Rickets, looks vulnerable to our stronger left hand side. This of course hinges on whether Coyle opts to keep Robinson at right back in replacement.
Tactical suggestions: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it… Our left side was the source of both goals against Birmingham, an infinite number of scandalously untaken chances against Blackburn and two of the four against Arsenal (albeit one via way of gaining the first penalty). It’s comfortably our strongest side, mainly because of Enrique being in juggernaut-esque form and serves as our most reliable way of creating goals at present. The three remaining midfielders will have to be organised ensure that Bolton’s midfield are given no room to manoeuvre, constantly keeping pressure on the ball. We already know how much of a physical nuisance Kevin Davies can be – although he tends to concede more fouls through than draw them (having conceded by far the most fouls in the Prem this season at 79). His lack of mobility underpins this flaw, therefore the suggestion for the markers would be simply to stand their ground, try not to out-do Davies aerially and concentrate more on players that he is attempting to bring into play – a tactic that has worked well, aerially at least, against Carroll on occasions in his days here.
Pantomime villain: A team that once boasted the despicable El Hadji Diouf and egotist Sam Allardyce – now one where the only thing even close to something or someone worthy of grief is ex-smoggie David Wheater (‘something’ being more appropriate in his case) – although to be honest the chemical plant dwellers are of little interest to most on Tyneside. Even the drum battering annoyance that drones on like the Duracell bunny at the Reebok is unlikely to be allowed entry with their instrument of aggravation… Oh well, peace and love…
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