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Preview: Fulham v. Bolton Wanderers

The return of the mane.
The return of the mane.

It's only December, but for Owen Coyle squeaky bum time is already here. While, as was proved with Megson, Phil Gartside is not quick to fire a manager, the results this season have been shocking, and show no signs of looking up. It provides an interesting counterpoint to last season, when expectations were low and for the majority of the season the Wanderers soared up the table. This season, expectations were high an performances have been unbelievably low, with sporadic peaks. Coyle will be hoping that he can turn that around for the second half of the season, the sooner the better.

Not that Craven Cottage is a place that Bolton are accustomed to getting a result. The Trotters haven't won there in the league since 1992, 12 matches ago. That said, 3 of the last 4 league matches between the two Whites have ended in draws, 2 of those draws being goalless, although given the fact that Bolton haven't had a draw in 25 matches, that outcome seems unlikely.

It is a good time to face Fulham. They last played on Wednesday, when they went out of the Champions League, they have a tough set of fixtures ahead, and they have just had to recall back up keeper David Stockdale from loan as Mark Schwarzer is out with a spinal injury. The other Whites have been inconsistent this season, beating Liverpool 2 rounds ago, but being beaten by Swansea last weekend.

The good news continues in the form of the imminent return from injury of Marcos Alonso, who could provide some much needed speed on the left hand side. Bolton's injury woes are nowhere near over, but it is a start and just getting some fresh blood back in the team could make all of the difference. As Coyle himself admitted this week, many players are not playing even close to their potential, which could be a chemistry issue.

As for the lineup, the much maligned Zat Knight will once again be starting along side Gary Cahill as David Wheater serves the last of his ban. Last week, Coyle did switch things up a bit starting Tuncay, who hasn't been given much of a chance, and benching Martin Petrov. Sadly this strategy didn't really work, as the Turk who was brought in for his creativity failed to create much of anything. I would be interested to see what could be made of a partnership between Alonso and Tuncay, but I wouldn't be surprised if Petrov regained his starting place. Nigel Reo-Coker's recovery from a hamstring injury means that the question of what the best central midfield pair is remains wide open.

Whatever team Coyle picks, he had better hope that the players leave it all on the pitch. The club's confidence is running low and another loss will intensify the spiral. We've been saying for weeks that it has to look up soon, but it's really getting serious now. Coyle needs to find the magic of last season, and he needs to find it quickly.