Despite having nothing left to play for themselves, Bolton Wanderers embark on their final away trip of the season on Monday night knowing that they could dictate the fate of the Championship promotion race.
It will be no easy achievement, as the Whites' penultimate game of this long winded season is against AFC Bournemouth, who currently sit in 2nd place and haven't lost since the 25th of February. They do, however, come into this game on the back of a devastating result. They'd managed to fight back with ten men to be winning 2-1 against Sheffield Wednesday, only to give away a 95th minute penalty and draw the game 2-2.
With that in mind, coupled with the immense pressure the Bournemouth players will be under due to knowing that a win would pretty much secure their promotion, I could see them bottling it again, this time against the Trotters. That or they'll absolutely batter us. Bournemouth fan, Peter Charles, couldn't call it either way, when I asked him if his team would be able to cope with the pressure.
Bolton themselves travel to Dean Court upon the back of two impressive away performances. Neil Lennon's side's away form has been nothing short of diabolical for the majority of the season, but it has been improving somewhat in recent weeks. A fantastic 3-0 victory over Cardiff City was then followed by a hard fought draw at play off chasing Brentford. Hopefully our away form continues to improve in front of the Sky cameras.
Yet more injury woes have struck the Bolton team down recently. Youngster Josh Vela will miss the remainder of the season with a groin strain and captain Matt Mills has come down with vertigo, so will also miss the tie. Rendering us with only one established centre back, as loanee Paddy McCarthy has returned to Crystal Palace after picking up a foot injury against Brentford.
There is some good news, however, despite also limping off in the same fixture, Dean Moxey is fit to play against the Cherries. The naughty pair of Barry Bannan and Neil Danns will also return to the fold after their suspension for their recent late night antics. Which will be a welcome boost to the Bolton midfield.
All other long term absences remain as such.
The Cherries will be with out the suspended right back Simon Francis, after he was sent off against Sheffield Wednesday. The 30 year old, who was recently named in the PFA Championship team of the year, will be sorely missed by our opponents, but otherwise have a fully fit and available squad.
Bolton Wanderers: DLWLDDWLDD
AFC Bounremouth: WWWDWDWWWD
Bolton Wanderers - 18th
- Top goal scorer: Adam Le Fondre - 8
- Assists: Liam Feeney - 8
- Most bookings: Neil Danns - 11
- Most Appearances: Tim Ream - 47
AFC Bounremouth - 2nd
- Top goal scorer: Callum Wilson - 22
- Assists: Matt Richie - 18
- Most Bookings: Harry Arter - 13
- Most Appearances: Matt Richie - 49
Bournemouth: 3/10 Draw: 5/1 Bolton: 10/1
My Tip (I'm not good at betting): Adam Le Fondre to score anytime: 7/2
One to Watch
Whilst the more stylistic, goal getting players, like Callum Wilson and Matt Richie, may grab all the headlines, midfielder Harry Arter is the Bournemouth player to watch on Monday night. The 25 year old has made the Bournemouth midfield tick throughout the course of the season, dictating the flow of games with his excellent passing ability. He's also scored eight goals this season thanks to his thunderous left foot.
What's Been Said
"It's on TV and that can be a little bonus to the players - hopefully we can show there has been a marked improvement in the team too. When we looked at the last four games we knew we had Norwich, Brentford and Bournemouth - we knew we could have a say in what was going on in the title race and play-offs."
"We were unfortunate not to get anything against Norwich, which was a last-minute goal, played very well at Brentford. I think we should have won that game but took two points off them. I think we can do the same on Monday night. We're an afterthought in this fixture - all the talk has been about Bournemouth. That might suit us, all the pressure will be on them."
"All we can do is concentrate and prepare for our game which promises to be a tough encounter against Bolton. Other results make no difference whatsoever because our aim is always to try to win every game.
"Bolton are a strong side and have a very good squad. They have a vastly-experienced manager in Neil Lennon who I have the upmost respect for. When you look back at the reverse fixture (a 2-1 win for 10-man Cherries in October), it was one of the highlights of our season. We were outstanding and secured a really important victory. We respect them and know we will need to be at our best because they have players that can hurt us."
Perhaps a deluded assertion, but with our improved away form and the immense pressure Bournemouth will be under, I could see us maybe picking up a point against the Cherries and putting a serious spanner in their promotion hopes, especially since there's a chance Mark Davies and Barry Bannan may line up in the same midfield. But, I do think Bournemouth will overcome the occasion and secure all the three points.
I predict Bournemouth 2-0 Bolton.