It should be said that faint-hearted Bolton fans should proceed no further in this round of football. We've all worked very hard to forget the words 'Stoke City' and 'Wembley', and the numbers 5 and 0. Tomorrow's match could bring horrific flashbacks to all Trotters and may reignite any lingering PTSD.There's no doubt about it, while I hated watching us play the Big Five every weekend, none of those matches filled me with as much dread as this one.
Stoke aren't a historical bogey team for the Whites, in fact they haven't won on our turf in the top division since 1963, but now they represent a huge psychological challenge. The 5-0 drubbing in the FA Cup semi-final last April seems to have served as a catalyst for collapse. Bolton started the 2010-11 season incredibly successfully, surprising even their own fans, but after that match, the team has been unable to put together any run of convincing form. The lack of form seems more accentuated now than ever, and while I don't want to be over dramatic, the club is rapidly sinking and unless something drastic changes soon, it will sink to the Championship.
One of the key factors of our last meeting with the Potters was Etherington's opener in the 11th minute. After they got started, there was seemingly no stopping them. With the current state of the Bolton defense, it is quite easy to see something like that happening again. An aging Paul Robinson at left back and a more and more useless Gretar Steinsson on the right does not inspire confidence, while our centrebacks apparently have never heard of marking.
It is a frightening prospect, especially given the fact that Stoke have been having a fairly successful season, but there is good news. Stoke's form away from the Britannia has been decided uninspired, and in the last 3 matches they've conceded 9 goals, only scoring 1 for themselves. If Bolton can take advantage of this weakness early, then staying on the right course shouldn't be as difficult this time.
I am dreading this match. I am fully prepared for it to be terrible. But there would be a pleasing symmetry if somehow Bolton pulled it out this match. Perhaps defeating the team that humiliated us at Wembley would exorcise whatever demons have been haunting the Men in White since April. Don't get your hopes up too much, but wouldn't that be nice?