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Bolton's Day Of Premier League Destiny Awaits

By Rob
Friday 11th May 2012
Bolton Wanderers go into this weekend's final game of the Premier League season knowing that if they don't beat Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium, then they will be relegated from the division for the first time in over a decade. Even if Bolton do achieve the impossible and defeat Stoke, they will also be condemned to the Championship should QPR pick up a point at Manchester City.

So the Trotters' survival hopes are more or less in their own hands, and it is most certainly all their own doing - with the added unfortunate injury crisis that has afflicted the club this season not helping the matter.

The club's fall from grace has directly corresponded with the loss of Stuart Holden, who has played just one match since  he was injured by a poor challenge from Manchester United defender Jonny Evans back in March 2011. Holden is the heartbeat of the Bolton team and, more importantly, their midfield. Without him Bolton are a totally different team, as proven by the alarming loss of form in his absence.

Bolton sat in seventh position going into that league fixture at Old Trafford. Having lost Holden the side slipped dramatically to their final league position of 14th, narrowly avoiding a relegation battle, and succumbed to a humiliating 5-0 defeat in the FA Cup semi-final at the hands of this weekend's opponents Stoke. Holden's importance to the team was such that he was named the club's player of the year despite missing the last two months of the campaign.

This season the poor form of last term has continued, and Holden has played just one match - a Carling Cup tie at Aston Villa in which he was by far and away the best player on the pitch. The American international's prolonged absence has seen the side suffer a string of humiliating defeats - including an cruel set of opening fixtures against all the 'big six'. Consequently, the side has struggled to put together any sort of form all season long - except a brief trio of victories on the trot following the Fabrice Muamba incident, that saw Owen Coyle pick up the dreaded Manager of the Month award in March.

Bolton have also seen long-term injuries strike influential winger Chung-Yong Lee, who played his first game of the season last weekend as a substitute against West Brom, summer signing Tyrone Mears and impressive young full-back Joe Riley - in addition to losing Muamba. Add to that the sale of Gary Cahill - who was easily the side's best player in the absence of Holden - in January and Wanderers never really stood a chance of escaping the relegation battle.

Going into the vital Stoke clash Wanderers have now also lost defender David Wheater to cruciate ligament damage, whose sizable presence was hugely missed in Wanderers' embarrassing capitulation in the second half against West Brom last weekend. It goes without saying that Zat Knight is not a suitable replacement, and I can't see Bolton getting anything against Stoke with Knight in the side.

The team is clearly hugely short of confidence, as proven by the inability to hold onto a two goal lead against West Brom when the game seemed to be dead an buried. And that performance fails to inspire hope in Bolton fans ahead of a clash at the Britannia, which is far from the ideal place to go when you require a victory.

One bright spark in Bolton's sea of misery has been the resurgence in form of Martin Petrov, who has been excellent in recent matches. His substitution by Lee against West Brom saw the team lose all threat and balance, and consequently played a part in two points being lost. Coyle's tactics have been dubious at best on many occasions this season, but he will need to get them spot on against Stoke on Sunday.

If the unthinkable does happen and Bolton are relegated then its not inconceivable they could become the latest in a long line of clubs who never manage to make it back to the holy land of the Premier League - just look at Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Leicester City and Charlton Athletic, for example. Bolton's financial issues would be put under huge pressure by a relegation, and with a whole host of players out of contract this summer you have to fear for the future should things turn even more sour at the Britannia.

But there is still hope. Stoke have nothing to play for, and if Bolton's players aren't fired up for this match then they simply don't deserve to wear the shirt. Add to that the fact that QPR are visiting Man City, who would secure the title with a victory, and it's fair to say that a win would do it for Bolton.

So one victory is what's needed, and if we can get it then we can finally put the horror show that was Bolton Wanderers in the 2011-12 Premier League season firmly behind us.

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