Maybe it’s because we won the supposed ‘title decider’ against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Maybe it’s because Blackburn Rovers then held a toothless United on Sunday. Maybe it’s because games against Bolton Wanderers will always evoke memories of that beautiful day in April at the Reebok Stadium when we sealed our second top-flight title and our first in the Premier League. Maybe it’s because we’re on our way to Wembley again for an FA Cup Final. Maybe it’s all of those reasons and more, but it definitely feels a lot like the countdown to a title celebration is well and truly on.
Arrogant? Of course. What did you expect? With five games to go in the Premier League season we sit pretty at the top, a point ahead of Manchester United and three clear of Arsenal. Both ourselves and the North London side have a game in hand over the reigning champions, with Arsenal set to pick up an easy three points on Wednesday against Tottenham Hotspur. For us, it’s a visit from Bolton on Tuesday evening, who are not quite safe from relegation but not dead-certs either. The title celebrations could begin at around 10pm on Tuesday, or the champagne could well and truly be put on ice if the Trotters trample all over our hopes and dreams.
Having dispatched of Gary Megson – a man as unpopular in Bolton as Howard Webb is to Martin O’Neill – earlier in the season, former Burnley boss Owen Coyle was the man charged with steadying the ship and keeping Bolton afloat in the top-flight. They currently sit on 32 points, five off Coyle’s former team Burnley in the relegation zone. From now until the end of the season every game is a cup final for Bolton.
Their recent record doesn’t appear to be too bad at first-glance, with three wins in their last seven games, but the other four have all been defeats, with eleven goals shipped in that quartet. If you count two more games previous, a 4-0 defeat against Spurs and a 3-0 rout at Blackburn, then their last nine games have seen Jussi Jaaskelainen pick the ball out of the net nineteen times. Chelsea have only conceded fourteen in sixteen home games.
Bolton’s record on the road doesn’t make pleasant reading for Wanderers fans either, with three wins, three draws, and ten defeats with just fourteen goals scored. Comparisons with Chelsea aren’t exactly fair, but the Blues have bagged a hefty 52 at home. Bolton did win on their last trip to London though, as they edged past West Ham 2-1 in early March.
Bolton’s top-scorers in the league are Matt Taylor and Ivan Klasnic, who have six each. Four of Taylor’s have come away from home. The aforementioned Jaaskelainen is one of just four players to have played in every minute of their side’s Premier League games this season.
Bolton have few injury worries, and should be able to field a full-strength side.
Chelsea will be sweating over the fitness of Alex – exceptional against Villa at the weekend – particularly with Kevin Davies amongst Bolton’s ranks, but Branislav Ivanovic – exceptional all season – is fit again following a knee injury, and could step in. After a game on Saturday on Wembley’s inconsistent pitch, there could be slight changes to the starting eleven.
Since losing 4-2 at home to Manchester City, we have hit eleven goals in two subsequent games at Stamford Bridge.
The last time Bolton ventured down to our patch they were sent packing following a 4-0 thrashing. They couldn’t dwell on that defeat though as they had another game just three days later. Sadly for them, it was again against us, and we again put four past them with no reply.
You don’t have to go that far back to find the last time Bolton came away from the Bridge with three points though. A December meeting in 2003 saw a Hernan Crespo opener cancelled out by Bruno N’Gotty in the first-half, and with the game petering out to a draw in the second period, a 90th minute John Terry own goal gave Bolton the win.
Refereeing Tuesday’s meeting is Chris Foy, from Merseyside. His last two games have finished goalless, while just 14 of his 33 games have been won by the home side. He’s shown 97 yellows in those 33, which works out as three-ish per game, and just five reds (including two in one FA Cup tie).
He’s been in the middle of just one of our league games this season, but a good omen is the fact that it was our 7-2 win over Sunderland. He’s been involved in four Bolton games, in which the Trotters have won only once.
With regards to United’s game at Blackburn on Sunday, it seemed entirely conceivable pre-match that the visitors would not get much out of the game. Weakened from injuries, burnout, and the psychological damage caused by losing two consecutive games and suffering a European exit, United seemed destined to lose or draw. Paradoxically, we’re buzzing.
FA Cup finalists, on a roll in the Premier League, and full of team spirit, motivation and all the components needed to maintain a title challenge, are we destined to win against Bolton? You can almost see the blue ribbons already…