Whichever football cliché you favour, this game is huge. Bolton Wanderers sit two points outside the relegation - above two sides that have a game in hand - with 30 points from 32 games. Sunderland have 26 points from 32 games. Reading, Barnsley, Hull City, Birmingham City and bottom of the table Burton Albion are also within six points of each other, and are also in action tonight. This is massive.
The race for survival in The Championship is well and truly on for Bolton. After a run of just one win in six games since New Year’s Day, and two games on the road without scoring and having been lucky to concede just twice in each, three points are an absolute must against fellow battlers Sunderland tonight.
Just to make you even more nervous, Wanderers haven’t beaten Sunderland at home in their last five attempts and only have one win over them in the last 11 meetings. However, Sunderland boss Chris Coleman has lost his last four trips to Bolton and has only ever won one match there in his managerial career. Also, after the sides drew 3-3 earlier in the season, the omens are potentially positive given they’ve never shared two draws in a season in 66 attempts.
Wanderers are without the suspended Mark Little, who saw red for a wild challenge in the defeat at QPR on Saturday, and the injured Josh Vela, who is suspected to have suffered ankle ligament damage. That forces Phil Parkinson into changes.
But I don’t think anyone expected that to mean Aaron Wilbraham would start. Oh yes, in a must win game, a man who has 0 goals in 18 appearances this season. Starts. Lunacy.
Jem Karacan also comes in, but the more surprising selections are Filipe Morais, Andrew Taylor and Dorian Dervite, giving us a very strange looking starting 11. That probably means sticking with five at the back, with Morais and Taylor in the wide berths and Zach Clough and Sammy Ameobi providing support to Wilbraham.
Sunderland look to be playing it safe with five at the back, including the experienced Premier League quartet of John O’Shea, Lamina Koné, Billy Jones and Bryan Oviedo. Bolton youth product Ashley Fletcher is likely to lead the line with the nearest support coming from Joel Asoro and George Honeyman. Strangely, they leave their main wide threats Callum McManaman and Aidan McGeady on the bench.
Here are tonight’s starting lineups. We’ll bring you all the actions from the Macron as it happens, in the Comments section below. Feel free to get in touch with your thoughts on the game and all things Wanderers related in the same place.
Bolton Wanderers (5-2-2-1): Ben Alnwick; Filipe Morais, Dorian Dervite, David Wheater, Mark Beevers, Andrew Taylor; Karl Henry, Jem Karacan; Zach Clough, Sammy Ameobi; Aaron Wilbraham
Substitutes: Adam Le Fondre, Tyler Walker, Derik Osede, Antonee Robinson, Reece Burke, Jon Flanagan, Mark Howard
Sunderland (5-3-2): Lee Camp; Billy Jones, John O’Shea, Jake Clarke-Salter, Lamina Kone, Bryan Oviedo; Lee Cattermole, Paddy McNair, George Honeyman; Joel Asoro, Ashley Fletcher
Substitutes: Luke Steele, Jonny Williams, Callum McManaman, Aidan McGeady, Donald Love, Ethan Robson, Josh Maja