I shall start this article admitting that yes, Sunday will be one of the toughest and possibly the biggest games we have played in a decade.
Many people have been saying that last time we played Stoke in a key game, we choked. This cannot be denied. Our performance a year ago was probably the worst shift I have ever seen the Bolton team produce. However, everyone seems to have overlooked the fact that earlier on this season, we returned the favour with a 5-0 win.
It is a well known fact that Britannia Stadium is a hard place to go, but form also dictates that it is not the fortress that it was since Stoke got promoted. If we can take a five-goal win at home, I see no reason why we cannot win by at least one-goal away from the Reebok.
We have missed our two key creative players all season in Holden and Lee, and no matter what anyone says, that does not excuse our poor season. Football after all is a squad game. There should always be 11 men on that pitch and a further seven on the bench that we can rely on. If there is no faith; no confidence, then it is bound to rub off on the players.
There is a reason why the fans are known as the ‘twelfth-man.’
Others are saying that it is about time that we got rid of Owen Coyle, some even saying he should be fired before the Stoke game. What would this achieve? Nothing. If there was one game to prove yourself, surely this is it. Firing him before Sunday would be senseless.
And to boot him at the end of the season regardless? That too would be a ridiculous move. So many have been shouting and tweeting ‘#CoyleOut,’ but I am yet to see one realistic replacement. I myself have created a shortlist of three managers, all of which are most likely out of our reach.
1- Steve Bruce: He has managed a number of Premier League sides now and with relative success. Not necessarily teams that stand out, but they’ve been consistent in most cases and some even played attractive football. However, if we were to be relegated Sunday, I cannot vision him moving to a Championship side.
2- Nigel Adkins: Since moving into professional management he has gained four promotions in six seasons, a record even the best managers would struggle to match. His man-management skills are also second-to-none. However, with Southampton having just achieved back-to-back promotions, and a large pocket of cash, there is little reason he’d move to Bolton; even if we do stay up!
3- Chris Hughton: What he did at Newcastle and is doing at Birmingham is, in my opinion, brilliant. He has got the best out of young players that many managers would have given up on. However, if Birmingham gain promotion through the play-offs, once again I doubt he shall move. Even if they do remain in the Championship, he may well want to stay on and prove this season wasn’t not a one off.
Not for a second am I saying that remaining a Premier League club is a certainty, or going to be easy. For all we know the impossible could happen and Q.P.R. could take a point or perhaps more from Man City!
However, writing the team off and giving up now is a crime. What happened to ‘It’s not over until the fat lady sings?’ We’ve all seen Bolton during the good times, and now we’re witnessing the bad times. That doesn’t mean you switch off. If anything it means the opposite- Stop crying and get behind the team.
The players know what’s at stake. For us it’s just a league, just a game. To them it’s their job. Relegation results in loss of reputation, loss of pride and loss of money. The last may seem harsh, but it is a harsh reality we are facing.
All it takes is a goal from us and a goal from City. Because putting the pressure aside at the end of the day, that’s all it is.