The limping wildebeest
By Matt Rowson
What a difference a week makes. Seven days ago, on the back of a five game winless run, all was doom and gloom at Watford. Storm clouds were gathering, a fresh conspiracy theory sprung from behind every stray coke can on Vicarage Road. Now, fifteen minutes of glorious pandemonium and ninety minutes of pure ecstasy later, the boot is very much on the other foot, and mid-May appointments are being cancelled all over Hertfordshire.
Meanwhile, up in Lancashire, things are not looking nearly as positive. Somewhat unfortunate to be relegated from the Premiership last season, Wanderers were a popular tip to accompany Sunderland back to the promised land of Sky TV, Fantasy Football and barrowloads of cash this season. Now, having apparently fallen into the trap of believing their own press, Bolton are grasping at the crumbling rock face. As results have descended from impressive to fitful to downright dreadful, the confidence of the side appears to have dissipated. Colin Todd juggles with players and formations, apparently in the hope that he'll chance upon a winning combination at some point, whilst the support is spinning around looking for a scapegoat (Dean Holdsworth currently a popular option).
Watford fans thinking that this all sounds a bit familiar are missing a crucial distinction between this and our own recent predicament. Whereas Todd is floundering, GT knew what he was doing at every step, and has manoeuvred us into prime position to gallop into the play-offs with momentum at the critical time.
Well, that's what I reckon anyway....
Our dramatic October victory at the erstwhile unconquered Reebok Stadium remains one of the high-points of the season, but did not cloud the fact that the fluent Wanderers were one of the best sides we'd encountered. Good sides don't become rubbish overnight whatever some doubters would have you believe. Despite Bolton's tricky looking run-in, it should not be ruled out that Wolves, who have very tough remaining fixtures as well as being essentially useless, may be a more realistic target.
Currently in goal for Wanderers is Steve Banks, a recent recruit from Blackpool for a pre-Bosman bargain £50,000. One of the many keepers tipped to have been at some point tipped to replace Schmeichel at Old Trafford, Banks was held singularly responsible for Wanderers escaping from Oxford with a nil-nil draw after an awful showing on Saturday.
Other options are Jussi Jaaskelainen, a young Finn whose confidence appears to have been completely shot to pieces by recent events, and the experienced Keith Branagan, returning from a long-term injury.
Right back will probably be hippopotamus Neil Cox, whilst the left-back position, apparently the most hotly contested in the squad, will go to either Robbie Elliott, veteran Jimmy Phillips, former Leicester man Mike Whitlow or youngster Hasney Aljofree.
Centre backs are Paul Warhurst, back in the north-west after an uncomfortable spell in London with Phallus, and popular South African Mark Fish. Fish has developed a reputation for livening things up by taking a few risks on occasions, but I guess when you've played for Lazio in Serie A you can be forgiven for treating the likes of Kevin Francis and Lee Bradbury with contempt.
Other possibilities in the centre are Icelandic Gudni Bergsson and boss' son Andy Todd.
The midfield boasts three-quarters of Bolton's Danish contingent in the shape of Claus Jensen, Per Frandsen and Michael Johansen, the latter of whom's twin brother Martin had a short spell at Coventry a while back. Reggae Boy Ricardo Gardiner is likely to take the fourth spot, with captain Scott Sellars out injured. Another recent recruit from Phallus, Jamie Fullarton, was dropped after his debut at the Manor Ground where Bolton failed to create a single goalscoring chance.
The influx of foreign talent has not been universally well-received, and there is evidence of concern that Bolton's emerging youngsters will be forced to move elsewhere to blossom... left sided midfielder Peter Morrison being a current case in point.
Up front, the loss of form, loss of attitude, and subsequent departure of Arnar Gunnlaugsson has left veteran goal-machine Bob Taylor to set up a partnership with the maligned Dean Holdsworth, who had a penalty saved on Saturday. A more popular option up front is youngster Eidur Gudjonsen, whilst most recent Danish addition Bo Hansen may also feature.
A realist would note at this point that Wanderers have a strong side, and even if we close the gap with victory on Saturday Bolton will still have a game in hand and the battle will merely have begun.
I say bollocks to that... my adrenalin's pumping already. At the very least Saturday demands a huge atmosphere at Vicarage Road. Bolton, remember, are the limping wildebeest... we are the rampant lion. Bolton are the cow in harness being lowered mercilessly into our cage of velociraptors. Sure, they may not be ready to roll over... but when twelve stones of Tommy Mooney is charging at you, propelled by the noise of the Vic Road end (and let's hear it), rolling over doesn't even come into it.