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Match Preview: Crystal Palace v Bolton Wanderers

I don't know what people are so fired up about. Jacob Butterfield's reunion with Bolton is not that big a deal, he was only at the Reebok for six weeks.

More of this please!
More of this please!
Stu Forster

I kid, of course. The big talking point this weekend will be Bolton Wanderer's manager Dougie Freedman making a return to Selhurst Park, where he played for and managed Crystal Palace for the better part of twenty years. I do hope the supporters there give him a good reception, and I think they will. This task will be made all the easier by the fact that Palace are riding high in the Championship, looking likely to fight for a playoff spot all season, if not get automatic promotion.

The London club currently sit fourth in the nPower Championship, two points outside of the automatic promotion spots. They currently possess 47 points from their 27 matches, having scored 50 goals while allowing just 35. Only two clubs in the division have a better goal differential than Crystal Palace.

Then, there is Bolton. The League Table does not make for happy reading, as the Trotters sit 16th, the same position they have occupied for several weeks now. Bolton have 33 points, which is ten off of the final playoff spot. 40 goals have been scored and 41 conceded.

Neither club is in particularly good form at the moment. Palace have lost two in a row, and only managed one win from their last six matches in all competitions. Bolton have drawn their last two league matches and are coming off an FA Cup replay win at Premier League side Sunderland. But the mood is much improved at the Reebok, as several recent developments have brought some much-needed optimism to the northwest.

Bolton supporters came out of Tuesday's match feeling the best they have in months. The Wanderers kept a clean sheet, and did so away from home. The club advanced to the next round of the FA Cup. Some fringe players (most notably Josh Vela and Andy Lonergan) made the case for first team involvement. Marvin Sordell scored a brace, and looked very good doing it. Then, to top everything off, long absent talisman Stu Holden made his return.

Wanderers still have a fairly lengthy injury list. David Wheater, Mark Davies, and Matt Mills are weeks away from returning. It's unclear if Josh Vela can play a second match so soon after his seventy strong minutes on Tuesday. And we don't know how much involvement Stuart Holden can handle either. In addition, Keith Andrews achilles has only got worse, leaving him a huge doubt for the trip down south. Also in the trainer's room is Sam Ricketts, who has a groin problem.

You may have noticed that a lot of the names in that last paragraph belong to defenders. You may also have noticed that defending has been Bolton's biggest problem this season (The last two seasons, really). The inability to play a consistent back four, whether through injury or poor form, has certainly contributed to that. Dougie Freedman can't afford to consider what might have been, he will have to play the hand he has been dealt. This weekend, it looks like that hand will feature Tyrone Mears, Zat Knight, Tim Ream, and Marcos Alonso.

The rest of Dougie's first team is a bit less predictable. We know Chung-Yong Lee and Chris Eagles are likely to start on the wings (Although Benik Afobe put in a solid performance Tuesday). We can assume Jay Spearing, our only match-fit defensive midfielder, will play from the start. Beyond that, it is anybody's guess. Darren Pratley could feature. We're not sure what will happen with Holden and Vela, and then there are the strikers.

Craig Davies will make his debut in the Wanderers squad this weekend. Whether he will get on the pitch, and at what point in the match, is a mystery. Will we play 4-4-2 in order to accommodate a Kevin Davies/Marvin Sordell partnership? Will David Ngog return to the starting XI? Will Craig Davies make his debut from the start? To be honest, your guess is as good as mine.

As for what to expect from Palace, we all know, particularly the coaching staff, that Wilfred Zaha is the danger man, and that he can be very dangerous indeed. Freedman claims he has a double-secret plan to shut the youngster down. Maybe he does. Nothing he has tried so far has managed to plug up the defensive holes Bolton possess.

The weather is also a talking point. It's supposed to be fairly horrible this weekend in England, and the Crystal Palace pitch does not have a good reputation. Even if the match isn't cancelled, that pitch condition will play into the team selection, especially with so many important players struggling with injury issues. It's a long journey down to London, hopefully a decision can be made early, and announced efficiently.