Earlier this week I got in touch with Marc Iles. "Who?" I hear you cry. Well now, Marc is a well respected journalist and has spent the last 3 years in the role of Chief Football Writer for The Bolton News. Marc has followed Bolton all around Europe, the USA and beyond, however is yet to find a smaller press bench than The Stadium Of Light. That small gripe aside, here's what he had to say about Bolton's season so far, our forthcoming encounter...
In the Summer Owen Coyle’s two main signings were Petrov & Blake. I know if that was Sunderland, we’d have been going berserk. When the window closed, did you expect a season of struggle or were you confident Coyle knew what he was doing?
Marc: Wanderers signed five senior players in the summer, paying for one (Marcos Alonso for £2.2million). I think they had a net spend of about £250,000 in the end.
The signing of Petrov, in particular, was celebrated at the Reebok. He was unlucky not to have played more football at Manchester City.
Owen Coyle wanted an improvement on last season's 14th place finish, and most of us would have expected that because after he arrived in January, the whole club improved dramatically. Not many would have picked us out to be in sixth at this stage of the season, though.
Sunderland have far greater spending power, so with that comes expectation in the transfer market.
Several years ago Sunderland finished 7th in the Premier League, and didn’t spend the money to push on or consolidate the position. We slipped away and became a yo-yo team for years. With Bolton’s reported debts, and assuming they continue their fantastic run of form, are you in anyway worried the situation we found ourselves in could happen at The Reebok?
Marc: I can certainly appreciate where you're coming from. Were Wanderers to qualify for Europe, then there would be a big decision to make. Bolton have been there twice before, albeit in a very different Premier League environment, and slipped away - but managed to consolidate their Premier League position.
Almost all the debts at Bolton are underwritten by a fan, Eddie Davies, so to a large extent it would depend on how far he wanted to push the boat out. But there's no getting around the fact that a Premier League place has to be protected at all costs.
The modern day Sunderland are on a more sound financial footing, so were they to get a Europa League place, I'd expect they would invest more heavily than they did in the past.
With Wanderers performing so well this season has expectation been raised, for example after sitting between 5th an 7th for most the season thus far, would you be disappointed to miss out on Europe?
Marc: Well, Owen Coyle and the lads are still playing it cool, dismissing the talk as a bit fanciful. If we can still be in the hunt after Christmas, when we have completed some tough games against Sunderland, Chelsea and Liverpool, then that might change.
From my own point of view, nothing that happens this season would surprise me. No-one seems to be able to break away in the top four, and with the likes of Villa, Everton and Liverpool struggling, this could be a great season for someone like us, or Sunderland for that matter, to break into the top six.
I believe Mark Davies will miss the game on Saturday through suspension. How much of a miss will he be?
Marc: Sparky gives the midfield a creative edge, and his running on the ball is such a valuable asset when you are looking to break quickly. It stands to reason that Fab Muamba would come into the side because Davies is suspended, so perhaps away from home, the added insurance of a more defensive midfielder might prove to be a good thing.
What has Owen Coyle been putting in Johan Elmander’s cup of tea to turn him into the revelation he’s been this season?
Marc: We'd all love to know. I think with Johan, we all could see that technically he was a good player, but his lack of confidence was a real problem. The system adopted by Gary Megson didn't suit him, as he was often employed as a lone striker, with Kev Davies out on the right side. He became the focus of frustration for things not going right on the pitch, and the club record price tag certainly didn't help.
The first thing Owen did was to back him publicly. It took some time to work, and he spent a little spell on the bench towards the end of last season because Ivan Klasnic was scoring goals.
But in pre-season you could see that the constant reassurance was paying dividends. Johan showed all those neat touches but was also willing to have a go at goal, and started to show up more in the six yard box.
The results are there for all to see this season.
Only one clean sheet for Bolton this season, and we’ve got a rather potent attacking trio of Gyan, Bent & Welbeck. Any concerns?
Marc: Definite concerns. Bent has caused all sorts of problems for Bolton in the last couple of seasons, and I like what I have seen of Gyan.
Results are the main thing, and while we're scoring plenty of goals, the problem keeping clean sheets doesn't really manifest itself. Zat Knight and Gary Cahill have definitely improved as a centre-half partnership but Wanderers always tend to give opponents a chance.
Time to dig out your crystal ball, its the end of the season, where have Bolton & Sunderland finished in the league?
Marc: I don't see there being much in it. If Steve Bruce can spend wisely in January then I'd give Sunderland a big chance of finishing in the top six.
I'd hate to predict what Owen Coyle could achieve at Bolton because he keeps on surprising me. If he can keep his core squad fit, and maybe bring in another inspired loan signing (a la Jack Wilshere) then why can't they compete for the top places?
Thanks for chatting, and enjoy the game on Saturday.
You can follow Marc on Twitter @marciles and his own musings about The Trotters at www.theboltonnews.co.uk