In every season, all teams can look back over nine months of ups and downs and pick out defining moments that have sealed their fate one way or another, but if Bolton Wanderers are relegated they won’t have to look back too far to find when their fate was decided.
By throwing away a two-goal lead to West Brom last weekend while Queens Park Rangers were simultaneously grabbing a last minute winner to defeat Stoke, Bolton handed the final day initiative to their relegation rivals and with either Wanderers or Rangers due to join Wolves and Blackburn in the Championship next season, Owen Coyle will view the last few minutes of those matches as when Premier League survival slipped away.
Because as it stands, Bolton’s fate is out of their own hands. The Lancashire club are two points from safety – and with an inferior goal difference to the Hoops – going into their final match at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium, which means only a win against the Potters will be enough to stave off relegation.
Even then, Bolton will have to pray that QPR don’t pull off a miracle and pick up at least a point at the Etihad Stadium.
Yet there is hope. QPR travel to a Manchester City side looking to wrap up the Premier League title and will almost certainly lose, meaning Coyle goes into the match in the knowledge that should Bolton do their bit and pick up three points, it should be enough to condemn QPR to the drop and ensure a turbulent season, like the Fabrice Muamba incident, will have a happy ending.
Away from home, Bolton have kept themselves alive. Not by being any good against the better teams – they have lost nine of their ten trips to the top half – but by doing the business against the teams around them.
Stoke City’s reputation dictates they will not give Bolton an inch and Tony Pulis will not want a last day home defeat as he sets off for his summer holidays. But there is a precedent here: last season, Wigan Athletic travelled to the Britannia on the last day needing a win to stay up and got precisely what they needed – can Bolton follow suit?
At 7/4, I am going to say they can. Stoke might be slight favourites at 7/5 (the draw is 12/5) but there are reasons to believe that the all or nothing fixture at Stoke is one that will bring the best out of Bolton.
Bolton are in the predicament they are in thanks to their home form, which is the second worst in the division. Usually a difficult place to visit, the faithful at the Reebok have seen 11 home defeats and just four wins all year.
But away from home, Bolton have kept themselves alive. Not by being any good against the better teams – they have lost nine of their ten trips to the top half – but by doing the business against the teams around them.
Bolton have emerged victorious from trips to the rest of the bottom six, winning at Wolves, Blackburn, QPR, Aston Villa and Wigan. Stoke are seventh from bottom and with that record, Bolton will fancy their chances of emulating Wigan’s last day escape.
Stoke have been hard to beat at home against the better sides – only Newcastle of the top nine sides left the Britannia with three points – but they have lost against QPR, Sunderland and West Brom and shouldn’t have the same edge as Bolton, who can actually revel in the fact they know exactly what they need to do, which often focuses minds.
Bolton have only drawn one away fixture all year, which suggests they have been quite open and I think they will be positive from the off. They have no choice – it is win or bust. The 7/4 that they win is worth taking.
Recommended bet: Bolton to win @ 7/4
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