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By Ben Pearce, Tottenham correspondent
Saturday, March 17, 2012
FA Cup glory may not be Bolton’s priority this season but the fact remains that, this evening, the Trotters have the chance to reach Wembley for the second year in a row.
Owen Coyle’s side reached the FA Cup semi-final last season and were probably the favourites to progress as they lined up against Stoke in April 2011.
Things went very badly that day as the Potters trounced the Trotters 5-0, and they have been going wrong ever since – Bolton have won just eight of their 34 Premier League games since.
A 4-0 win away at QPR on the opening day of this season proved to be a false dawn, and Wanderers are well and truly mired in the basement battle.
Bolton’s reverse fixture with Rangers last Saturday was the very epitome of a relegation six-pointer – and their third home win of the campaign, which reinforced the need for goalline technology, was sorely needed.
In some ways it is a surprise that Coyle has kept his job, given that QPR and Wolves have both reacted to the danger of relegation by replacing their managers.
However, the Bolton boss has been charged with the responsibility of replacing his side’s old guard and ushering in a new generation at the Reebok Stadium.
And unlike Andre Villas-Boas at Chelsea, he is being allowed to continue with that job, regardless of the short-term repercussions.
“This was always going to be a season of transition because of the squad we inherited and the injury situation we had,” said Coyle. “We are not getting too low because we know what is at the end of the tunnel.
“We have the vision. Now we have to achieve it in the remaining games.”
The mission at Bolton is underlined by a glance at their teamsheet against Stoke in last season’s FA Cup semi-final.
The familiar household names are all there – Jussi Jaaskelainen, Paul Robinson, Gary Cahill, Kevin Davies and Johan Elmander – but none of that group featured against QPR last weekend.
Elmander departed in the summer and Cahill was sold to Chelsea in January, while Jaaskelainen, Robinson and Davies are being phased out to make way for the next generation.
Alan Bogdan has now taken the No1 jersey, while David Wheater, Zat Knight and January signing Tim Ream are vying for two spots at centre-back.
The American Ream arrived from New York Red Bulls, having played against Spurs in the Lilywhites’ pre-season tour of the USA in 2010.
Bolton’s precarious position could perhaps be attributed to a very porous rearguard – they have shipped 57 goals in 28 Premier League games this season, with only Blackburn and Wolves conceding more.
The Trotters’ selection of midfielders also compares fairly poorly with the majority of their top-flight rivals.
While the pacy Martin Petrov is a threat out wide, the likes of Mark Davies, Nigel Reo-Coker, Fabrice Muamba, Chris Eagles, Chung Yong-Lee and Pratley would struggle to get into many top-half teams.
Up front, Wanderers have had to cope with the losses of Elmander, last season’s loanee Daniel Sturridge and the decreasing influence of the 34-year-old skipper Davies, who has been a thorn in Tottenham’s side in recent years with six goals in his last seven games against the Lilywhites.
David N’gog arrived from Liverpool in the summer but has struck just three goals in 29 games for his new club. Despite that, Coyle has tended to start with the Frenchman, using Ivan Klasnic off the bench – even though the Croatia international has struck nine times.
That tally includes the crucial late winner against QPR following an incisive pass from Ryo Miyaichi, who is on loan from Arsenal – following in the footsteps of Jack Wilshere with a spell at Bolton.
The 19-year-old Japanese playmaker is looking like a useful creator behind the striker – and a knock-out display against Spurs today would only endear him to Gunners fans as he eyes the ultimate goal of stardom at the Emirates.
The verdict: As always in these competitions, much depends on the strength of Harry Redknapp’s line-up, but we always back Spurs at the Lane – 3-1 to Tottenham
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs