With Aston Villa’s demise the top of the league once again appears calcified, so, like Kim Kardashian crammed into a designer dress, the bulk of the tension will be at the bottom. Here is the first of a series of assessments of this season’s relegation candidates.
As wretched as Manchester City and Tottenham have been at times this season, they are nine points clear. They may not inspire much toward the end, but even if they stay static, it’s hard to see enough of the knuckle-draggers clambering up to knock them into the relegation zone. Therefore Bolton are the first to technically be considered candidates for relegation.
Form: Bolton sit in twelfth place, on 34 points, five points clear of the drop. They have a reasonable run of form in the past eight games, winning three, losing three and drawing two. The club been hit or miss this season, drawing just four of the first thirty matches, but that is an advantage. It’s easier to get to 40 points by winning twice in eight matches, than by gutting out six draws.
Schedule: Bolton have the points advantage, and they also have one of the easier schedules. They face one top four side, Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge. They have three benign home fixtures (Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Hull City) to get two wins. On current form, a date with Aston Villa could be ripe as well. Bolton could conceivably pick up a point or two away to Portsmouth, Wigan Athletic or Man City. On schedule alone, Bolton getting to safety seems probable.
Injuries: One of the advantages to having few dynamic players, is not being dependent on such creative forces. None of their injuries (Mark Davies, Vaz Te or O’Brien) has been critical to Bolton’s fortunes this season. Matty Taylor is the only midfielder to have scored a goal this season, and Kevin Davies is the only reasonably effective striker. As long as those two stay healthy, Bolton should be reasonably competitive.
Prognosis: One bad weekend could see Bolton thrust back into the race, but, at this point, they have the best position, a soft schedule and a stable squad. It would take an epic collapse, intermingled with startling runs of form from three or four other clubs to see Bolton relegated. It’s probably not going to happen.