LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Ryo Miyaichi of Bolton celebrates scoring the opening goal during the FA Cup fifth round match between Millwall and Bolton Wanderers at The Den on February 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
It's that time of the week again when the match is so tantilizingly close you can almost taste the Balti Pies already. That means one thing... it's Fan Focus time!
This week we had the pleasure of speaking with one of our SB Nation brethren, Lion Of Vienna Suite - The place for all things Bolton Wanderers.
From that fine site we spoke to Matilda Hankinson, a Bolton Wanderers fan who filled us in on the many and varied happening's at the Reebok Stadium this season. Let's hand things over to the Lion's then, of said Vienna Suite...From the outside, this season looks like it was cursed from the off for Bolton. Chelsea's reluctance to allow Sturridge return, the injuries to Lee Chung-Yong, Tyrone Mears, and Stuart Holden, Johan Elmander deciding to up and leave, and then of course the dreadful scenes surrounding Fabrice Muamba. Can you even begin to sum up this season for us?
Matilda: In one word: disappointing. Even after the lofty heights we reached last season, I didn't necessarily expect us to do that well, but I certainly didn't expect us to be deep in a relegation battle. We've had a number of false dawns this season as well, good results which we thought would put the bad performances behind us (notably, the 3-1 win against Wigan in October and the 5-0 destruction of Stoke in November). Even after the Fabrice Muamba ordeal, when we thought the team would be able to pull together and achieve consistently again, we've had embarrassing performances.
While there's certainly an argument to be made that Bolton over-achieved for much of last season, this has been a season of under-achievement and that's what has stung more than the losses themselves. The club needs to sort itself out both at a tactical level and at the mental level of things. It looks like thing may have looked up just enough, just in time to save the season, but whatever league we find ourselves in at the end of the season, there's a lot of work to do over the summer.
The crowd 'Muamba6' tribute at the Reebok will be remembered as one of the truly iconic images of this season, and perhaps the Premier League era as a whole. What can you tell us about how the Muamba situation was like for a fan to follow, and what effect has it had on the club as a whole?
Matilda: The moments immediately following Muamba's collapse were some of the hardest I'd ever experienced as a fan, and certainly the most difficult thing I've had to cover as a blogger. I had no clue what had happened or what was going on, but I could tell by the looks on the players' faces, including Spurs players, that it was very very seriously. Thankfully, miraculously even, the news only got better and better from there. I can honestly say that I've never been more proud to be a Bolton fan than in the weeks following that incident. The players, the fans, the club as a whole came together beautifully.
It put things into perspective, at the end of the 90 minutes it's just a football match and the players are people who really matter. I would've traded watching Bolton get relegated all the way down to the Blue Square Premier if it meant Fab would be ok. I am so thankful for the incredible recovery he has made, it means everything to the fans and the players. At the same time, my heart goes to Piermario Morosini's family, and Livorno football club, as they were less lucky.
One man Sunderland have been repeatedly linked with is Kevin Davies. Is there enough life in the old dog yet to make him a decent signing for someone at this level, or is he pretty much done?
Matilda: Kevin Davies is certainly not what he used to be. Even as recently as last season, a Bolton lineup without Super Kev was unthinkable. This season, he's usually brought on as a 60th minute sub if he's brought on at all. However in our last match, he came on at halftime against Aston Villa and put in an absolutely vintage performance. SKD definitely still has it in him, just maybe not with the consistency he used to have.
I have to ask you about the other Davies - Mark. For me he is one of the most underrated players around. Have I misjudged him, or is he really a hidden gem?
Matilda: Mark Davies has been a bit of a revelation this season. When Stuart Holden was injured, it was difficult to see who would step up in the central midfield as Stu played such a vital role in the side. He hasn't filled Stu's admittedly large boots perfectly, but he has put in a bloody good effort. Sparky, as the club's official site insists on calling him, has a good football brain, and on his day is an excellent player. He has, like every Bolton player with the possible exception of Adam Bogdan, been hit or miss this season, but when he hits, he's indispensable.
If we move onto the game itself, what effect can you see Bolton's midweek exertions having on the proceedings?
Matilda: Bolton have been playing a lot of midweek games of late to make up for matches missed due to Fabrice Muamba's collapse, so it's certainly possible that they'll be tired. However, I think the confidence boost they will have gotten from the win and good performance will outweigh any toll taken on their bodies.
If Bolton are going to get what could be a massive three points at the Stadium of Light, where do you see them winning it? What areas can Bolton best exploit?
Matilda: Right now the main threats from the Wanderers reside on the wings. Martin Petrov, Chris Eagles, and Ryo Miyaichi have all been in form of late. Owen Coyle has started playing a 4-4-1-1 formation with Eagles sitting behind the striker, Petrov on the left, and Ryo on the right. The interplay between Ryo and Eagles has been particularly deadly, but even when Eagles is on the wing his runs and crosses really expose other teams. The weakness has actually been Klasnic's ability to get on the end of those passes.
And who in the Sunderland side worries you?
Matilda: Stephane Sessegnon is quite obviously Sunderland's most dangerous player. The way he bosses the field is intimidating, and the Bolton defense is notoriously bad at marking or shutting one player down. Not to mention that he scored against us in the reverse fixture. Nicklas Bendtner also terrifies me, I've always rated him and thought that he was rather unceremoniously discarded by Arsenal. His speed on the counter attack tore Bolton apart last game between the two teams, as evidenced by the fact that he also scored.
Finally, lets have two predictions from you. Score on Saturday, and will Bolton stay up?
Matilda: This is a difficult one. Sunderland are going through a bit of a dry spot, but in the head to head, they've won 5 of their last 6 matches. As much as I'd love a win, and we desperately need the points, I can see this match being a low scoring or scoreless draw.
I will be optimistic and back Bolton to stay up. This is partially because I believe in the team, and partially because I've made a bet with my Charlton Athletic mate that if Bolton get relegated I will wear his Charlton Athletic shirt on a night out, and I really can't bear the thought of that.
Many thanks to Matilda for her insight. You can follow her on twitter at @mattielouwho (best Twitter name EVER, if you are a Grinch aficionado like me!) and be sure to drop by at Lion Of Vienna Suite after the game for reaction.