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Saturday, 4th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Town Visit Bolton Looking to Close Gap to Top Six
Friday, 19th Jan 2018 13:07
Town visit struggling Bolton Wanderers on Saturday looking for their first away win of 2018 and seeking to cut the four-point gap to the play-off places.
Manager Mick McCarthy, whose side are currently 12th, says the Blues will be aiming for a second successive win - having previously gone five matches without a victory - after last weekend’s 1-0 home success against Leeds United.
“We’ll be going there trying to get three points, as we always do,” he said. “There’s no point in going up there and trying to do anything else.
“We are four points off the play-offs and that’s where we’d like to be, that’s where we’d like to finish the season if we can.
“There are teams who have got bigger squads and have spent a lot of money that will be thinking they should be there. Who knows? If we can go to Bolton and win, and it’s not going to be easy, back-to-back wins would be great.”
Following the matches against 21st-placed Bolton and leaders Wolves at Portman Road next weekend, the Blues have games against two of the teams in the relegation zone, rock-bottom Sunderland at the Stadium of Light and then a home match with Burton, who are 22nd.
While tomorrow’s match and those two games look like good opportunities to pick up further victories, McCarthy has his mind focused only on tomorrow and in any case says those sides shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“No, I look at Bolton,” he said. “One of the few teams that have beaten Fulham were Burton at Burton.
“The league is bonkers, you start looking at it thinking, ‘Happy days, we could do something there’, that’s a sure-fire way of getting a slap. I wouldn’t want the players looking at it and thinking like that.
“I just think the next game’s going to be the hardest game of the season. And that’s Bolton on Saturday. Whoever’s coming after that, Wolverhampton, I’ll be thinking exactly the same.
“And it might not turn out to be that way. But it won’t turn out to be that way only if we play well or if maybe on the day the team that we play don’t particularly play well. I don’t start looking too far ahead.”
Bolton, who are 11 places and 14 points behind the Blues, had a dreadful start to the season following their promotion from League One, at one stage losing eight games on the trot in all competitions.
They gradually began to find their feet and climbed away from bottom spot, although they have lost their last two matches, a 2-0 loss at Brentford in the Championship a week ago following a 2-1 FA Cup exit to Huddersfield at home.
McCarthy says the Lancastrians will have anticipated being at the wrong end of the table when they were going into the campaign.
“I bet if they analysed their season as to what they thought it was going to be prior to it, they probably thought they’d be in the bottom half scrapping away,” he reflected.
“And I think teams like that who probably acknowledge that right from the very start are really tough opponents because they’re not fazed whether they’re fifth or sixth bottom.
“They might drop into the bottom three and nobody’s going to be banging the door down saying, ‘It’s a disgrace, you shouldn’t be there’.
“They got promoted and they’ve been on a transfer embargo and I think Phil Parkinson’s doing a really good job for all those circumstances. He’s got a team littered with Championship experience and I think it’s the same with Cloughy at Burton.
“I think they probably think that they’re going to be in the bottom half of the table, they might be near the bottom three, maybe drop into it.
“They don’t want to be in the bottom three but it doesn’t faze them like a team which is expected to be in the top six and suddenly finds them in the bottom six. It’s horrible.
“And then the club ends up being horrible and the manager ends up getting sacked and everything changes. They’re not, they’re sticking with it and they’ll be really tough opponents those teams.”
Bolton chairman Ken Anderson admitted earlier in the week that he had underestimated how much tougher the Championship is now after the Trotters’ single season away in League One. McCarthy agrees that it has become harder than it was a couple of years ago.
“It has, look at the number of teams that have been in the Premier League, then look at the amount of money that’s been swilling around in the Championship, the figures that have been paid, the wages that have been paid, the transfer fees,” he said.
“Clubs that have been in the Premier League over the years - 18 teams is it? - it’s a tough league, a really, really hard league.”
Among Bolton’s key players is midfielder Karl Henry, 35, a player McCarthy knows well from their time together at Wolves.
“I had him for five years, I signed him from Stoke,” he recalled. “I had him play in a pre-season friendly against Aston Villa. I said to Taff [his then-assistant Ian Evans] at half-time, ‘We’ll take him’.
“He was excellent for me, a really good player, a good captain, a good character, I still keep in touch with him and speak to him. He’s good character to have.”
McCarthy is likely to bring keeper Bartosz Bialkowski back into the side with the Pole over the calf injury which saw him miss the Leeds game.
Dominic Iorfa will continue at right-back with Jordan Spence serving the final match of his three-game suspension.
Jonas Knudsen looks set to continue at centre-half alongside skipper Luke Chambers with Adam Webster still out with his achilles problem and Tommy Smith on the verge of his move to the Colorado Rapids. Myles Kenlock will be at left-back.
New loan signing Cameron Carter-Vickers is likely to be among the subs having only trained with the squad this morning.
Cole Skuse and Callum Connolly will again be the central midfield pairing with Stephen Gleeson, whose signing to the end of the season was also confirmed today, also probably among the subs.
The trio behind lone striker Joe Garner is again likely to be, from the left, Bersant Celina, Martyn Waghorn and David McGoldrick.
Wanderers are waiting until the last possible moment to make a decision on Henry, who has missed the last two matches with a hamstring problem.
“He is definitely getting closer,” manager Parkinson told The Bolton News. “He had a bit of a setback at the end of last week but we’re monitoring him on a day-to-day basis.
“We know he is an important player for us. If he’s right he’ll be back in the squad but if not we’ll have to leave him for two weeks until Bristol City.”
If Henry fails to make it Derik Osede will continue to deputise, with Darren Pratley currently sidelined with an ankle injury.
West Ham loanees Josh Cullen and Reece Burke, a midfielder and a defender respectively, recently returned to their parent club.
Parkinson was pleased with his team’s display at Brentford, despite the defeat: “I don’t think you can fault the effort we showed last week, it was a committed performance.
“Nothing fell for us in and around the box. But sometimes you have to make that happen yourself, there has to be more quality with the balls coming into the box.
“We got into some good positions. We have shown in the past we have got that quality, so we need to show that again now.”
Parkinson’s side will be up against a player who might have been in their squad, Bersant Celina having been close to joining the Trotters prior to making his season-long loan switch to the Blues.
“Some you win, some you lose,” Parkinson reflected. “We met him and he was going to come to us because the location suited him but at the time, the situation we were in [the embargo], we couldn’t get the deal over the line and Ipswich took him.
“He’s a good lad and [consultant chief scout] Tim [Breacker] watched him a lot at FC Twente on loan the previous season.
“We liked him a lot but purely with the financial situation we were in, we couldn’t meet the money City were asking for according to how many games he played.
“He’s a good professional and he’s had a good season. But I can’t really afford to dwell on what I haven’t got.”
Historically, the Blues just have the edge, having won 19 times (17 in the league), Bolton 13 (nine) and with 10 (nine) games between the teams ending in draws.
Town are unbeaten in nine against Bolton, winning six and drawing three. Their last defeat was a 3-1 reverse in the FA Cup at Portman Road in January 2005.
The Trotters’ last league win against the Blues was the 4-1 victory towards the end of 2001/02 which all but confirmed Town’s relegation from the Premier League. Earlier that season, they recorded their last league victory in Suffolk when they won 2-1.
At Portman Road in September, second-half goals from Cole Skuse - his first in 29 months - and David McGoldrick saw Town to a 2-0 home victory over then-rock bottom Bolton.
After a first period in which chances were rare at either end, Skuse’s deflected strike - only his second goal in his four years at the club - put the Blues in front three minutes after the break, then McGoldrick added the second in the 89th minute.
The teams last met at the Macron Stadium in March 2016 with Wanderers already all but resigned to relegation to League One.
Stephen Dobbie’s penalty seven minutes into injury time denied the Blues a third successive win as Bolton came from two goals down to draw 2-2.
Kevin Bru put Town in front on 24, Christophe Berra added a second on 73 but one-time Town trialist Lawrie Wilson hit back within a minute, before Dobbie’s late penalty, awarded after Ainsley Maitland-Niles had fouled his fellow Arsenal loanee Wellington Silva.
Saturday’s referee is Peter Bankes from Liverpool, who has shown 89 yellow cards and six red in 26 games so far this season.
Bankes’s last Town match was the 2-0 home win against Reading last month in which he booked Knudsen, Waghorn and Webster as well as four Royals.
He was also refereed the 2-0 home defeat to Nottingham Forest in November 2016 in which he booked McGoldrick and two visiting players.
Prior to that he was in charge of the 0-0 draw at Wolves three months earlier in which one of his linesmen disallowed what replays showed was a perfectly good Daryl Murphy goal.
He also awarded the home side a penalty after Webster had fouled Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, but Bialkowski saved the Icelander’s spotkick, and booked seven players, five of them from Town: Knudsen, Chambers, Christophe Berra, Teddy Bishop and sub Bru.
Bankes, who is in his fourth season as an EFL referee, had officiated in two Town games before that one, January 2016’s 0-0 draw at Burnley, in which he cautioned two Clarets, and the 2-2 home draw with Bristol City in September 2015 in which he booked three of the visitors.
Probable squad: Bialkowski, Gerken, Iorfa, Kenlock, Chambers (c), Knudsen, Carter-Vickers, C Smith, Skuse, Connolly, Hyam, Bru, Gleeson, McDonnell, Celina, McGoldrick, Waghorn, Garner, Sears, Drinan.
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