Glamour is not a word that will be used to describe Bolton’s clash with Stoke on Sunday but nevertheless it is still an incredibly important to both sides and could well be significant to how they fare this season. Based on league standings, which admittedly is something you never base a prediction on in the Premier League, you would expect a win for Stoke but Bolton are desperate for a win and their first home points of the season but Stoke also have to try and resolve their problem of losing league games after they have played, normally very well, in the Europa League on a Thursday night.
Bolton, much like Stoke are always said to have been a long ball team. However with Owen Coyle, who was at one point tipped for the Arsenal manager berth earlier on in the season, have been trying to play more expansive football but with the long term injuries to Stuart Holden and Chung-Yong Lee it has been harder for Bolton to play well through the midfield. With front man Kevin Davies, an England international lest we forget, they do sometimes want to knock it long with the majority of midfield creativity coming through the impetuous Martin Petrov.
Coyle is actually under serious pressure and I believe if Bolton don’t get anything out of this game then he could no longer be in a job on Monday morning. This is controversial I know but not much focus has been on Coyle with the majority of pressure being on Steve Kean instead. And this could be the time that the Bolton board decide enough is enough with no Premier League managers being sacked so far this season (and moving into an international break of two weeks). The Trotters are pointless at home this season and even though they have played Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, this is not good enough after nearly three months of the season so a win or at least a draw is desperately needed.
It is well documented that the downturn in Bolton’s form has really been caused by their FA Cup semi-final loss to Stoke and as that game was significant in both Bolton and Stoke’s seasons so is this game. If Bolton lose this game, which is one that they do have a great chance of winning, then they could find it hard to recover and could inevitably lose their manager but a win could give them the lift and momentum they need to recapture the form of some parts of last season, where relegation was never a real possibility.
Despite looking strong in mid-table, this game is vital for Stoke too in proving their credentials of being able to find the right mix between playing in the Europa League and the Premier League. They have lost all three of their previous games on a Sunday after their Europa League games to Sunderland, Swansea and Arsenal. This game is vital for them and Tony Pulis to show that this season the Europa League, which they are doing well in and is clearly of high importance to them, is not going to have too much of a detrimental effect on their league form.
Another reason that makes for an interesting game is Stoke’s style of play and which Stoke turn up. Everyone know about Stoke and their throw-ins but as someone pointed out in a previous post about Stoke, “Will someone not say Stoke are a physical side in an article,” and I do agree to an extent that Stoke aren’t always a very physical side.
They are a physically big side, but who isn’t with Huth, Shawcross and Crouch et al in your team. The thing with Stoke is though, that they only play with a physical style when they feel they can use it and sometimes bully teams into submission. As we saw against Newcastle on Monday night, the long throws and goalmouth scrambles didn’t really work for Stoke, apart from the awarding of the penalty of course. Also against Israeli outfit Maccabi Tel Aviv on Thursday Stoke did play well with slick passing moves and width provided by wingers Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington with full back Shotton also looking rather good, with an useful long throw-in to boot. However Stoke did use their classic mode of long throw followed by goal against Tel Aviv in the reverse fixture at the Britannia Stadium as the Maccabi defence could just not handle the power of Crouch and Jerome up front.
It will probably be hard for Stoke against Bolton to use their physicality as the Bolton centre backs Cahill and Wheater, as well as tough tackling left back Robinson, are all physically strong and good in the air meaning it could be up to Etherington and Pennant on the wings to create chances as the Bolton backline doesn’t exactly ooze pace. The fact that like Bolton, Stoke do lack a cutting edge in the centre of midfield with the Delap and Whelan really being the weak link in the team, means that this game is not going to be won in the centre of midfield which is an area where lots of games in the EPL are won. If Stoke can sort this area out then they will probably not find it as difficult to manage playing at home and in Europe.
So even though this game may not appeal to the masses, or even to the neutral, it is an absolutely huge game for both sides involved and is likely to be a major point in both the winner’s and loser’s season.
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