Bolton Wanderers match preview

By Keith Allman
Last updated : 25 November 2004
It's been a hectic few days, but now we've got to get back to what this whole thing is about; a load of blokes on a field kicking a ball around. Harry, Jim, Milan, Zajec - the players have got to try and put all the rubbish that's gone on out of their minds and concentrate on what they get paid all that lovely money for and secure three Premiership points.

I feel a bit sorry for Zajec and, indeed, whoever it should be who ends up leading Pompey in the future. We've got a fair few injuries and a tough run of games up ahead, and so whoever is appointed is in for a baptism of fire. Taking a team low on confidence and with two away wins in the last year to Bolton, themselves doing fantastic this season, is not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination.

Trying to purely concentrate on the players available for a minute, LuaLua will probably miss out due to his groin injury; he joins his fellow strikers Yakubu, Kamara, Pericard and Todorov in the treatment room. Shaka may have recovered from a groin strain that kept him out last weekend but after Ashdown's man of the match display against Manchester City, would consider himself lucky to be instantly recalled. Steve Stone managed ninety minutes for the reserves in midweek and it would be a huge boost to see him back in the squad. One man who will definitely be missing out is David Unsworth, suspended after picking up his fifth booking of the season; Stefanovic could move across to left back with the rest of the back line moving across and Griffin filling in on the right. I wouldn't mind seeing that myself, as I reckon Linvoy needs a run back at his natural central defensive position.

Despite all that, the team selection could still throw up one or two surprises. Had Harry been in charge, the likes of Cisse, Hughes, Duffy and Taylor would've been looking at the bench at best - what's to say they won't get a chance in the starting eleven? Hell, on the most extreme scale, who's to say Mark Burchill won't get thrown into the team? A fit striker is a rarity at Fratton Park these days, and maybe Zajec will consider him worth the hefty fee we'll have to pay to Celtic if he does indeed make his 25th Portsmouth appearance.

Of course, this match has got a lot more going on than just players and tactics. The absolute chaos of the last few days will have ruined preparations completely, especially now this mysterious Zajec character - brought in under the claims he would have nothing to do with the first team - is now in charge of, er, the first team. It's as much to do with the characters of individual players; some are going to be gutted Harry and Jim are gone and mope about the place, some are going to be playing for their future, some will probably just accept it as part of the job and carry on regardless.

It's easy to concentrate purely on our own problems, we can't forget the threat Bolton pose. They're flying this season, good at home, and crucially have a success built on set-pieces. And as we all know, defending flighted balls into the box hasn't been a strong point for us in the last, ooh, two decades. My heart tries to make me think we can prove all the whingers and doubters wrong and grind out a gritty and well-fought point, maybe even a win if Lady Luck smiles down on us, but my head says that I'm being silly. After a nightmare week, a fourth consecutive league defeat would really finish it in style.

But who's to say? There's so much confusion round the club that the players will be doing well to have got their heads together in time for this game, and hopefully they won't turn up a bewildered and confused rabble and get thumped. Harry and Jim are gone, it's time to accept it and move on, and let's pray we can get one of those typical "football" results that upsets the coupons from time to time. Please God?

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