Ah, nothing gets the blood boiling and the pies baking quite like a Lancashire Derby. The mighty Bolton Wanderers (18th in the table) and the slightly less mighty Wigan Athletic (20th in the table) will get together for a quiet drink this Saturday at the Reebok Stadium. Some will walk there (Hopefully wearing flat hats), but most will arrive by coach or car, anxious to see their heroes return hope to their hearts just in time for the spring thaw.
Bolton Wanderers are coming off a loss to Norwich, and a loss in which they performed poorly. Owen Coyle has come in for a lot of criticism, specifically over a second half substitution he made last week. Personally, I think it was the correct tactic, but poor execution. Coyle took off a midfielder (Fabrice Muamba) for a forward (Kevin Davies). The idea was correct, he just chose the wrong players. He should have taken off Chris Eagles for Ivan Klasnic. I'll pause for some of you to scream about Marvin Sordell. Finished? Great.
In hindsight, you are right. Sordell looked very good for the few minutes he was on the pitch, and deserved more time to try and make something happen. But we didn't know that before he came on. It was also the type of match that looked like one goal was going to nick it. And our Croatian hit-man is nothing if not a goal poacher. I thought Klasnic could come on, get on the end of a David Ngog flick-on or a Martin Petrov cross, class finish, 1-0, three points to Bolton.
That was not meant to be though. And now we need to move on. This Saturday's match is huge for both clubs. A cursory look at the various message boards will see Bolton supporters calling for massive changes to the team and formation. "Forget that we have only lost two of our last ten matches, let's go 4-4-2 with Kevin Davies on the right wing!" I am assuming that calmer heads will prevail, and Owen Coyle will name essentially the same team he has for the past 6 weeks.
We can assume Adam Bogdan will be in goal. No official announcement has been made, but Jussi Jaaskelainen has been available for a couple weeks now, and Coyle has stuck with the young Hungarian. Some people might like to see Tim Ream get thrown straight into the fire, especially considering how poorly Zatyiah Knight and David Wheater played against Norwich, but I do not think this will happen, nor do I think it should. Bogdan will have the same partnership in front of him for the foreseeable future. I've written about the midfield before, they will not be changing anytime soon. Ngog has been a little uneven, but I think Coyle will give him more time.
The one decision he really has to make, yet again, is at right back. It looks like Joe Riley and Gretar Steinsson are fit again. Tyrone Mears was solid in his debut last week. I like Mears. He looked like he wasn't ever going to take advantage of his talent in his early 20's, so much so that he went to France almost against his club's will just to play top flight football. He didn't play a lot for Marseille, but working in the French system for a year improved his technical abilities immensely. Riley and Steinsson have the type of injuries (hamstring and groin, respectively) that tend to linger, so I would rather not rush them back.
As for Wigan, I am looking over their squad list now, and I have some sympathy for Roberto Martinez. There is just not a lot to choose from. I actually pull for Wigan, I prefer to see as many Lancashire clubs in the Premier League as possible. But the situation is dire. No one is injured, everyone has returned from African Cup of Nations duty, and yet, I don't think there is enough quality to select a legitimate top flight starting XI.
We know Ali Al Habsi kept them up almost single-handedly last season, and I like Maynor Figueroa at left back. Jean Beausejour looked good at the World Cup, but that was almost two years ago, and he has not been able to recapture that form in England. Victor Moses looks like more of an impact player off the bench than a regular starter to me, although he is still young and can improve. Hugo Rodallega is a talented striker, but I don't think he wants to be there, and his play this season (2 goals in 18 league appearances) seems to prove that. The rest of the squad is hard-working, the type of water-carriers that every club needs. Trouble is, every club needs 2 or 3 of them, not 14.
I'm sure Wigan will put in a fighting performance, and this should be an interesting if not exactly exciting relegation six-pointer/Lancashire Derby. I think it is a likely Bolton win though, a draw at worst.