This will be a battle between two clubs who decided in January that they did not want Bobby Zamora, so we know there will be at least some footballing intelligence on display. In all seriousness, Fulham bring a talented and in-form frontline north to Lancashire this Saturday. The Cottagers sit tenth, smack dab in the middle of the table, on 39 points from 31 matches.
Many people might not remember this, but Fulham and Bolton were promoted together, over a decade ago. Blackburn were the third member of that promotion class, and none of the three have gone back down since. All have qualified for Europe on multiple occasions as well. It's really an impressive group. But in the last few seasons, it is Fulham that have jumped to the front of the pack. To find out what Bolton have to do to beat them, follow me...
As mentioned at the top, Fulham have a very in-form frontline. Clint Dempsey has made big headlines on both sides of the Atlantic and all around the world with his phenomenal 19-goal-season, but the truth is that when it comes to scoring, these two clubs are just about equal. Fulham, with the likes of Dempsey, Damien Duff, Pavel Pogrebnyak, and Bryan Ruiz have scored 39 goals in 31 league matches. Bolton have scored 36 goals in 30 league matches. The reason Fulham are in the top half of the table and Bolton are fighting relegation is that the Cottagers have conceded 42 goals, while Wanderers have given up 60. It's all about the defense, and Bolton's defense, while still not great, has been improving.
Sam Allardyce used to divide the season up into four sections, the first three 10 games each, the fourth 8 games, and that is how he would break down Bolton's performance. I think that method is especially helpful to get a clearer picture of the past nine months.
This season, in the first quarter, Bolton conceded 24 goals and only picked up six points. The second quarter the defense did improve, but we still only picked up 10 points. The third quarter showed a great deal of change. Samuel Ricketts returned, Paul Robinson left, Gary Cahill left, David Wheater replaced Zatyiah Knight, and Tim Ream came in to replace Cahill. Adam Bogdan also won the goalkeeper's shirt. We conceded 17 goals, which is too many, but we also won 13 points, moved out of the relegation zone, and looked a lot better doing it. We will miss the hard tackling and heavy running of Fabrice Muamba, but the inspiration of his recovery will be just as important.
Now, going into the final eight matches, Bolton have their first choice backline fit and ready to go. Ricketts, Ream, Wheater, and young Marcos Alonso will get better and better as they continue to work together. They will also have the energetic wing defending of Ryo Miyaichi to assist, with the possibility of Chung-Yong Lee providing the same help in another month.
I think that over the next eight matches Bolton will concede less than 10 goals, pick up more than 10 points, and remain in the Premier League. They will kick this off tomorrow in a hard-fought 1-1 draw.