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Match Preview: Bristol City v Bolton Wanderers

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City are fighting relegation and Wanderers are fighting promotion in what promises to be a full-blooded affair at Ashton Gate. With only five matches left, a loss of the battle for either side leaves that club unlikely to win the war at the end of the season.

Bolton's last away match was more about the Referees than the players.
Bolton's last away match was more about the Referees than the players.
Ben Hoskins

This match is truly a tale of two cities. Or towns. Or teams. Fortunes maybe? Yes, fortunes. Bristol City have had a nightmare of a season. They are currently propping up the table, and although the math has not guaranteed their relegation to League One, it would take an extraordinary turnaround to stop that happening. City have 40 points after 41 matches. The other two clubs in the relegation zone each have 47 points (Insert Blackburn Rovers joke here). The team in 21st place has 48. The writing is on the wall. That said, they can still play the spoiler this weekend by throwing a wrench in the Dougie Freedman redemption plan.

And it has been quite a redemption for Dougie and Bolton Wanderers over the past ten weeks. On the second of February Bolton threw away a 1-0 lead at Watford, a result which saw them fall to 20th in the table, just three points above the relegation zone. It looked like Freedman, only in the manager's seat for a few months at the Reebok, might not even make it to the end of the season. Instead, everything turned around, the results came hard and fast, and life in Lancashire improved considerably. Now, Bolton are in eighth position, only two points off the playoffs.

Last time these sides met, in Bolton, the Robins grabbed a two goal lead in the first twenty-one minutes. The boo birds were out in an angry Reebok, but the boys were strong, and came back to pick up a 3-2 win. Bolton will not want to be so generous in the first half of this fixture, as their away form is far less encouraging than the home results.

The men in white have had a full week of rest, so Freedman is unlikely to make major changes, although a massive fixture on Tuesday versus Leicester City could play on his mind, particularly if Bolton have a lead in the second half Saturday. That's not really important though. On paper, whatever team Freedman puts out there will be superior to their opponent at just about every position.

Bolton have scored 60 goals this season, just about 1.5 per match, while City have scored 56. So, scoring is not a big problem for the Robins. Nine clubs have scored less in the nPower Championship. The home side are not prolific, but they are not desperate for scoring either. The problem, predictably, is on the other end of the pitch. The same was true of Bolton a few months ago, but in the 12 matches since the Watford loss, Wanderers have only conceded ten goals. Bristol City have seen 74 goals scored against them in 41 matches, that's 1.8 goals per match.

Taking all of that into consideration, Bolton should win this match. When you look at what each side has to play for, as well as the gulf in talent between the two squads, it's hard to see Bristol City putting up too much of a fight, even when Bolton's generally poor away form is added to the equation. Unfortunately, over the last few season, those are precisely the types of matches Bolton tend to lose, and lose badly. It will be a test of Dougie Freedman. Has he really changed the character of this club, or are they still Owen Coyle's boys?