This is my last preview of 2011, and I have to say it's a bit of a relief. Overall it's been a year to forget for the Bolton Wanderers, with a spectacular fall from grace towards the end of last season and then limping start made to this one. These results mean two things for today's match: this is a rather important game, as Wolves, much like their Trotting counterparts, occupy the bottom four. In spite of this, most Whites won't have high expectations for this match, after being let down so many times before. That leaves this game somewhat open.
After dropping points to Newcastle at home last week, and with a tough run of fixtures looming ahead, the clash with the other Wanderers is vital. Luckily Coyle will have his pick of fullbacks, a problem position, with Sam Ricketts, Gretar Steinsson, Paul Robinson, and Joe Riley all available. In fact, the only recent absence is Darren Pratley who is most likely out with a virus, and not really someone many Bolton fans will miss. The injury crisis does appear to slowly be winding down.
Wolves will be in good spirits, having just drawn 1-all at Arsenal, their first point away from home in the last 21 available. However, midfielder Nenad Milijas did receive a red card in that match and will therefore be unavailable against Bolton. The other Wanderers also find themselves without Jamie O'Hara, who is out due to a hernia operation, and Ronald Zubar who is suffering a knee injury.
Owen Coyle will not hold back with his team selection, fielding the best side available, although it is unclear what exactly that is. Not a single player has been consistently good this season, with the possible exception of Jussi Jaaskelainen, nor has a single formation been consistently effective. Coyle flirted with the 4-5-1 for a while, but seems to have returned to a loose 4-4-2. After Mark Davies' impressive performance on the right wing against Newcastle, one of the few players who was at all effective, it would make sense to keep him there, and perhaps put Chris Eagles on the left. Nigel Reo-Coker and Fabrice Muamba appear to be the strongest midfield, although neither have been inspirational. At this point though, we don't need inspirational, we need points.
Bolton don't necessarily have a lot to fight for, even a win would keep them in the drop zone, but Owen Coyle would be wise to remember the timing of his predecessor's sacking, a signal of the club's breaking point. Results not only have to start coming, they must start coming with a consistency utterly lacking in the last 18 games. This is make-or-break time for the Wanderers, because unless the trajectory gets righted and quick, the club may find itself in an unexpected relegation battle, and the Championship doesn't look an impossible ending.