Three days ago, Bolton recorded their first win and first clean sheet of preseason, a 2-0 victory over League Two side Morecambe. It was the first time that I, personally, have been excited for the upcoming season. I needed time to emotionally recover from the sting of relegation, the sheer disappointment of finally going down. I've had that time, and Bolton have had the time to put together a performance that warranted a win. Now they travel down south, to Portsmouth, to see if they can do it twice in a row.
But all's not exactly well down Portsmouth way. In fact, this could be Pompey's last match - ever - if the club can't sort out its finances, and reach a settlement with the big boys on the books, before August 10th. One of those big boys, is none other than former Wanderer Tal Ben Haim, who has refused to back down on his £2million claim. This has earned him boos, not just from Pompey fans
but even from the opposition lately. A protest march is planned for today in reference to the whole fiasco.
With that in mind, it's easy to see how Portsmouth players and staff might not have the match at hand completely at the forefront of their minds. Owen Coyle apparently sought assurance that the match was a good idea at all. Yesterday he told the Bolton News that
"I've spoken to Michael because, of course, you would have reservations looking from the outside in. But he's assured me there will be a strong squad put out there and we're going to Portsmouth knowing it will be a tough game. The other thing you know heading to Fratton Park is that there will be a partisan crowd. I just felt that kind of atmosphere could only help our preparation. We've played every game so far away from home purposely."
Fratton Park is well known for it's atmosphere, feverish support even when the club didn't necessarily deserve it, but at a time like this that support may be fraught. Regardless of the team sheet, it will be a tough test for the Trotters and the boys should treat it that way.
The team that will be playing in the Championship next season is starting to crystallise. Adam Bogdan, unsurprisingly, still looks to be the club's number one, but there are some less predictable players emerging as well. Chris Eagles did have his moments last season, but there were also matches where he did a whole lot of nothing. So far this preseason, he seems to have really grown as a player. The return of Chung-Yong Lee of course meant that he lost his preferred spot on the right wing, but he has stepped up in central midfield. The match will also be the first chance to see new addition Benik Afobe, who officially joined the men in white on a season long loan from Arsenal on Friday. The 19 year old striker could be the answer for Bolton's lack of lethal finishing.
This is an important match. It's against arguably the toughest opposition the team have faced yet, in a sticky situation, far from home. If Bolton can get another win or, more importantly, put together a good performance, it would be a big step towards a successful season.