Who: Atherton Collieries v Bolton Wanderers
Where: Alder House, Atherton
When: Saturday 4th July
Kick off: 3:00PM
There normally wouldn't be so much fanfare and focus over a Bolton Wanderers XI friendly, as the very youngest amongst the Whites' squad prepare themselves for the coming season, but since this fixture will take place in my home town and against my local non-league side, I felt obliged to cover it to the optimum. (So look out for our match report and player ratings in the aftermath of the tie).
Obviously, since it's the first fixture of pre-season for both sides and there isn't exactly much history between the two sides, there isn't much to be discussed in this preview, but we can talk about the players that will potentially be lining up at Alder House, later on today.
The fixture will actually be the first for the development squad since the Academy Status was lowered from Category A to Category B. I presume this won't be particularly relevant to the game, but it'll be interesting to see how the academy players kick off this new era.
According to the programme for the game which contains the squad lists for both sides, there will be a fair few recognisable names on the Bolton XI, although none have yet to make a first team appearance.
Recent new editions to the youth squad, Yvan Wassi and Enock Likoy-Elumba are both on the squad list, so it'll be interesting to see how they both get on. Then there's the familiar faces of current third choice goalkeeper Harry Campbell, Rob Holding, Alex Finney and Channing Campbell-Young, all players who've spent a while in the youth set up and should be taking strives to be more involved in the first team next season.
Other interesting names include Alex Perry, who has been training with the first team this week, Chris Cveko and the very recognisable name of Will Jaaskelainen, the son of the legend. Those amongst a host of new names who have no doubt been promoted up to the u18s this summer.
However, the one Whites player who everyone at the ground should be watching when kick off comes is striker Jamie Thomas. Highly rated amongst the club and fans a like, he scored 15 goals for the u18s last year and even earned himself a call up the u21s towards the end of the season, scoring a late winner in a game against Blackburn Rovers. Bolton fans are expecting big things from the skilful, goal grabbing forward, with many predicting he'll make his first team debut in the coming season.
The Whites have only been back in training for less than a week, so it's unclear just how fit they'll be for this game, but I'd expect the obvious talent that a lot of the players posses will shine through.
Colls will be coming into this game off the back of a fantastic season in which they smashed the league and reached three cup finals, eight weeks more training than the Bolton men too, so will be wanting to put on a show and a celebration in front of what is set to be a capacity crowd. Whilst this will be Colls' first game of pre-season, I doubt there will be much holding back as no doubt many squad members will be wanting to get one over the club that they support and also just enjoy such a big occasion in front of a massive crowd.
With that in mind, I expect Colls to line up with a fairly strong starting XI, but no doubt everyone will get a run out at some point or another. New signings Matt Cross and Jimmy Moore will no doubt be wanting to impress on their debuts for the club, and youngsters who have this summer been promoted to the first team, like Ahmed Sulay, may be in contention for some pitch time too.
The player the Bolton defenders will really have to keep their eye on, however, will be striker Mark Battersby. As far as anyone can tell, he was the top scorer in the whole of English football last season, with an astonishing 66 goals. Capable of scoring all types of goals, but especially deadly twelve yards from goal, it's almost certain that he will get on the score sheet today.
Tricky winger Mark Truffas, a huge Bolton fan, will also prove to be a thorn in either Wanderers full-back's side.
Other players who people visiting Alder House for the first time should keep a look out forare: Nathan Battersby, Brad Cooke, Danny Tabener, Matt Grimshaw and striker-come-MC rapper, Jordan Cover. Colls are a very talented side and it's a shame I can't rattle off every name!
Games like this are always difficult to predict, since there's no league table or form to go off, but I do feel like the game will be a closely fought affair. The Colls lads will certainly be right up for the game, since they'll be up against such prestigious, at least in name, opposition, and they do have some real quality as well. I do think they'll definitely get on the score sheet, probably more than once, as it takes quite the defence to keep Mark Battersby at bay. I see the game being a really exciting, competitive scored draw.
I'll go for 2-2.
Yes, I'm sitting on the fence.
If you're reading this at home Saturday morning and aren't going to the game, then do! You can pay at the gate at Alder House so come on down and enjoy the game. It's bound to be a great day,