For this weekends Fan Focus, I spoke with Bolton diehard Emma Norris, a Sports Journalism student at UCLan. She's been a season ticket holder for 7 years, and regularly attends away games. She loves a bit of Kevin Davies, and here's what she had to say about Saturdays big match...
Like a lot of average football fans I didn’t expect much from Bolton this season, and they’ve really made me look a bit stupid. Did you have some quiet confidence that you could be riding as high as you are now or are you as surprised as the rest of us?
Emma: To be honest, anything was better than what we’d had under Megson in my mind. Last season when Coyle came in was just a purely a survival job, no frills. I had a quiet confidence I guess, like you say, that we would do better under Coyle, but I’m still pinching myself a bit at the minute, and I love every moment! (It’s about time!)
Owen Coyle has transformed your image from dirty, long-ball, cloggers to what some people call a ‘proper’ footballing side. Is he an early candidate for manager of the season?
Emma: Most definitely. The man can do no wrong with the Bolton faithful – he spent pennies in the summer, basically turning around a team which had literally had the life and soul sucked out of them into a completely different side. He’s just an infectious personality – he doesn’t exclude the fans like his predecessor, he makes us feel like we’re appreciated and that’s half the battle won already. It really wouldn’t surprise me if he did win Manager of the Season, and it would be thoroughly deserved.
You may or may not be aware, but Stuart Holden used to be on our books before returning to play for Houston, without making an appearance for SAFC. What do you make of his development; he seems to be turning into a quality player?
Emma: I must admit, when we signed him I did a bit of background research on him and was quite surprised to find out that he did spend a bit of time in the North East!
I personally think that he’s a candidate for our Player of the Year, and it’s not even Christmas yet! He is a totally underrated player, especially by the opposition – his tackling success rate is second to none, and he completely dominates in midfield. He’s just a quality find by Coyle, and despite not playing much last year due to a broken leg, he’s slotted into the team this campaign no problem – it’s hard to believe he hasn’t been playing in the white of the Wanderers for years!
What would do you expect the starting XI to be for our game, and would you do anything differently?
Emma: Coyle will have to make a few changes after Mark Davies’ dismissal at the weekend, but I think the starting eleven will be this: Jaaskelainen, Ricketts, Knight, Cahill, Robinson, Chung Yong, Petrov, Holden, Muamba, K Davies, Elmander.
The only one I would possibly have my doubts over is Petrov. On form, he is a quality player, as proved by his wonder goals against United and Blackpool this season. However, when he’s out of sorts, he has the worst game in the world. I would think about maybe starting Matt Taylor ahead of Petrov, perhaps bringing the Buglarian off the bench later in the game. Taylor himself seems to be playing for his place since Petrov’s arrival, something which I think gave him the much needed kick up the backside which he needed – he was becoming a bit too complacent in my mind.
Bolton are an attacking force these days, we all know the threat that the likes of Kevin Davies & Elmander pose, but who’s going under the radar that we ought to look out for?
Emma: Stuart Holden, most definitely. It’s taken him a while to find his shooting boots, but he’s an absolutely star quality player. His goal against Blackburn was just sublime, and I definitely think he could pose a threat in front of goal as well as the rest of the pitch come kick off!
We’ve got a fairly potent strike-force with Bent, Gyan & Welbeck, and your lot haven’t kept a clean sheet for 16 games (according to BBC). Who from our side are you worried about?
Emma: I must admit, our defence does worry me slightly. One clean sheet in the league all season isn’t the best record to hold, but considering we’re sitting sixth and have scored 30 goals in 17 games, I can’t complain much. Darren Bent always seems to score against us, so I think I’ll hedge my bets on him giving us some trouble throughout the game.
Who’s the weakest link in the Bolton team who we should look to exploit?
Emma: Depending on whether he plays or not, Martin Petrov would most probably be the one I’d pick. He’s a very unpredictable player, and if he’s not getting the right service or he just can’t be bothered, he’ll basically give up.
A few years back we were linked with a move for Jussi Jaaskelainen, and Bolton fans seemed to go ape-shit that we even dared. Has that animosity died down yet?
Emma: To be honest, there hasn’t been a Premier League team that hasn’t been linked with Jussi! He’s our longest serving player and I firmly believe the Big Finn will finish off his career at the Reebok. He saves us many points a season, his experience proving to be his main quality. I most definitely wouldn’t want to see him go, but there’s no bad blood about you being linked with him – we’re used to it when we’ve got a quality keeper!
And lastly the most crucial point, your big match prediction. I want scores, scorers and any other tidbits you care to offer!
Emma: We’ve only lost twice on the road all season at Arsenal and City, but then again your home form is second to none. I think the win against Blackburn will have buoyed us massively, and I always fondly remember us annihilating you 4-1 a few years back. I think I’ll go for a sneaky 2-1 Bolton win, purely because I think you’re due a home defeat!
Thanks very much, and enjoy the game. I look forward to catching up after it.
You can follow Emma on Twitter @bwfc_nozza