Garry Monk’s Birmingham City are next up as Bolton look to extend their unbeaten run to four games. After 2 away wins and a draw, the Super Whites are riding high and will be looking to follow up their impressive away victory at Reading with another well disciplined display. A win will see the Wanderers’ points tally reach double figures, and even the most optimistic of fans like myself, would not have predicted such a fruitful start from the first four games.
Birmingham City, on the other hand, are yet to win this season. But despite this and the difference in points tally, it’s still very early days. Birmingham’s last two matches have been against decent Championship teams. A narrow 1-0 defeat to promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough and a draw with Swansea, in a game where they had so many chances to win, leads me to believe this is a tricky game to call.
Our expectation levels have been raised considerably after a great start and it’s a game that we ought to win, but these are the games that we have come unstuck with in the past. For me, it’ll be a real test of character and if we are to show we are making steady progress, these are the games we need to win. Mid week games tend to have smaller crowds, less of an atmosphere, a slow tempo. Our biggest challenge is combating that and being positive up the pitch.
Recent form shows we have struggled against Birmingham. In the corresponding fixture last year, the Blues took the spoils thanks to a solitary goal from Wanderers’ old boy Lukas Jutkiewicz. Despite the Blues being reduced to ten men, after Che Adams saw red half way through the second half, Birmingham hung on to bolster their own survival hopes. Following this defeat, Bolton then went on a disastrous run, picking up just 1 point from the next 5 games.
Worryingly, the Blues recent form against Bolton is pretty decent. They have won each of their last three away league visits to Bolton (all by the same score 1-0) and we haven’t scored a single goal in any of our last five league matches against them.
But our squad has improved significantly since last season and this game is where we need to show it. I think this is our biggest test so far and I think this will be an even tougher test for Birmingham than in recent times. I think both managers will feel that this is a winnable game though, but come 10pm on Wednesday night, there will be over 750 Birmingham fans going home down the M6 empty handed, and at £30 a pop, I really feel for them.
Parky may be persuaded to give Yanic Wildschut a start after he scored his second of the season in the Reading victory last weekend. With 2 home games in the space of 4 days, Phil may opt to shuffle his pack and bring in one or two fresh faces.
Bolton have a couple of injury concerns; Will Buckley, who was substituted at half time with a thigh strain on Saturday, could miss out but Sammy Ameobi has recovered from a hip injury sustained at West Brom and may play some part. Jonathan Grounds will not be eligible to feature against his parent club, having completed a season long loan from Birmingham. Other than that, Parky has a full compliment to choose from and now has good options in his squad which is encouraging. We’re still looking to bolster our attack before the loan window shuts and Uncle Ken has £900K burning a hole.
Despite being under a transfer embargo, Birmingham have also brought in a few players with Kristian Pedersen, Omar Bogle and Lee Camp, all of whom started last time out against Swansea, being added. I expect Garry Monk to name the same side that drew with Swansea and as Craig Gardner completes a three-match ban, new boy and younger brother Gary, should keep his place.
The Blues have two long term injuries in their squad with Isaac Vassell not featuring since he suffered knee ligament damage at St Andrew’s last October and David Davis is still on crutches following ankle surgery during pre-season.
Lee Probert will be the man in charge and hopefully he’ll put in a better stint than John did last week. So far this season, the South Yorkshire-based official has refereed just one game, dishing out 3 yellow cards. The last time he refereed a Birmingham game however, they lost 3-0, so more of the same please Mr Probert.
Bolton 15/8 Draw 21/10 Birmingham 9/5
Crowd to exceed 15,000 3/1
I think we may opt for a slightly more attacking line up and give Yanic a start at the expense of Will Buckley. We’ll try to go with a high tempo from the off and, with Birmingham sitting deeper, we’ll have a bit more possession. We need an early goal to get the game going and I think we’ll get one.
3-1 Bolton and Josh Vela to get off the mark