Tuesday 20 February 2018

Signs don't bode well for Bolton

Paul Wilson

Should QPR survive this afternoon, either by dint of gaining a result at Manchester City or, more likely, Bolton failing to win at Stoke, all three clubs promoted to the Premier League last summer will have stayed up for the first time since 2001.

What made 2001 unusual was not just that Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton beat the drop together, the first time the feat had been achieved in Premier League history, but that they stuck around for the next 11 years.

Until last week, when Blackburn finally succumbed to relegation after flirting with it for almost all of Steve Kean's tenure, the class of 2001 prospered at the highest level, with Fulham reaching a Europa League final, Blackburn winning a League Cup and Bolton finishing as high as sixth under Sam Allardyce. Now the chances are that Blackburn and Bolton are going down together.

News that David Wheater will be out for a year with a cruciate injury only compounded the gloom at the Reebok going into the last fixture of the season today. Ordinarily you would back a Bolton side to win at Stoke if they really had to, given that the Potters have nothing in particular to play for and have been feeling the effects of an extraordinarily long season of late, yet Owen Coyle's expression at the end of last week's 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion spoke volumes.

A team that cannot hang on to a two-goal lead at home against the Baggies has no right assuming it can go to Stoke and win. Bolton actually beat Stoke 5-0 in November, but along with a win at neighbouring Wigan it came as an isolated highlight in the middle of a sequence of 13 defeats.

Coyle's motivational powers seem to have deserted him, and the manager has even been criticised for tactical naivety of late, either by playing an open 4-4-2 and leaving Bolton too exposed in midfield, or by making attacking substitutions when two up against West Brom instead of shoring up the defence and seeing out the game.

"David's injury probably sums up our season," Coyle said. "It has been incredible, with knee injuries, leg breaks and everything that happened to Fabrice Muamba [who suffered a cardiac arrest at White Hart Lane]."

Stoke have only lost four times at home this season, although they were beaten last week at QPR, at precisely the time Bolton were letting two points slip against West Brom, and they were generous enough to allow Wigan a last-day victory to stay up last season.

Unless Blackpool make it past West Ham in the Championship play-off final on Saturday, Wigan could soon be on their own in flying the flag for Lancashire's lesser lights in the Premier League. Burnley and Blackpool have been and gone, now Blackburn and Bolton could suffer the same fate, leaving the annual Latics late show as the only attraction between Merseyside and Manchester. No one was predicting that when Dave Whelan switched his attention from rugby league 18 years ago and saved his local football club from going out of business.


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