Bolton Preview

Thursday 17 February 2005

League worries are shelved for the week as Fulham make the long trip up to Bolton on Saturday. The good news is that the prize at stake is a place in the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup, the bad news is that Bolton will be taking the match very seriously as they eagerly hunt a UEFA Cup qualification spot.

This is the fourth successive season that Fulham have made the Fifth Round of the FA Cup so there is definitely some cup pedigree in Chris Coleman's squad. It is different for Bolton, though, as the Trotters have made round five just twice in 10 years. In recent campaigns Sam Allardyce has rested players in the FA Cup, keeping them fresh for league battles. This season, with Bolton tucked in the top-half of the table, things are different. Fulham are likely to face a howling storm from the home side when this game begins.

Wanderers, of course, have a cherished FA Cup history. They have lifted the famous trophy on four occasions, most recently in 1958. Fulham, sadly, have never seen Black and White ribbons tied to the Cup, and the valiant effort in 1975 when the Whites lost to West Ham United in the Final remains their best performance.

The Bolton region has proved a relatively happy hunting ground for Fulham in recent years. The Whites have lost only once at the Reebok Stadium and are unbeaten in their last four visits. Indeed, the defeat to Bolton at their new ground in 2000 was the last time that Fulham lost to the Trotters, a run of nine games without defeat. Last campaign two Brian McBride goals on the very last weekend of the season ensured Chris Coleman's team a top-half finish. It all suggests that the two squads are very evenly-matched and that this tie should be an excellent contest.

One Wanderers player who is unlikely to trouble Edwin van der Sar is veteran midfield combatant Gary Speed. The Welsh dominator has fired 24 shots at goal this season without scoring. Only two players are suffering a worse streak than that - Southampton's Nigel Quashie and Blackburn youngster Jon Stead. Another Bolton midfield enforcer, Ivan Campo, is in fifth place, having unleashed 17 shots without scoring.

Bolton have a reputation as a physical side and no-one is more physically imposing than their brawny hitman Kevin Davies. The former Chesterfield, Southampton and Blackburn forward has committed a foul every 25 minutes in the Premiership on average - the second fastest rate of offending in the top division. There seems little reason to doubt that Davies will modify his bruising style against the visitors.

Bolton are on an impressive streak of form in the Premiership at present, and Fulham will need all their cunning to overturn the Trotters. But Chris Coleman's side have snaffled away draws in both previous rounds of the FA Cup this season before winning at Craven Cottage. This scenario could very well be repeated against the Wanderers from Lancashire.