West Ham v Bolton, Premier League, March 6, 2010
“This is a very, very important game.” – Valon Behrami.
“We are stronger than the teams around us. We have a much stronger team and deserve to be much higher in the league. We should leave these teams behind us now.” – Gretar Steinsson.
The concentrated nature of the bottom half of the Premier League means that 13th placed West Ham and 15th placed Bolton are both knee-deep in the relegation mire as they sit just three and two points respectively away from the drop-zone. (West Ham are 14/1 to go down, Bolton are 6/1.)
Such a precarious position will no doubt be of concern to Hammers’ boss Gianfranco Zola who, having seen the Eastenders claim back-to-back home wins against Birmingham (2-nil) and Hull (3-nil) following the takeover of the club by Davids Gold and Sullivan, then saw his side crash back down to earth with a 3-nil battering at the hands of Manchester United.
Losing heavily at Old Trafford was not in-of-itself a result which will have caused too many shocks for the Hammers. Rather, the fear is that with their momentum now halted West Ham could struggle to find the winning touch once more. Crucially, with away matches at Chelsea and Arsenal facing the Hammers in their following two fixtures, there is a large degree of pressure on the claret and blues to pick up a vital three points over the Trotters this weekend.
With the six-pointer looming, West Ham fans have several reasons to believe their side will eventually avoid the drop.
Harking back to glory days of the Hammers, fans will be encouraged by the inclusion of no less than three of their first teamers in the England set up against Egypt. Goalie Robert Green, defender Matthew Upson and striker Carlton Cole were all rewarded with call-ups from Fabio Capello, offering comfort to fans regarding the quality of the spine of their team. (West Ham are 6/4 to keep a clean sheet, 8/13 against.)
One player missing from the England set-up, though, was West Ham’s likely player of the season. Gluing the team together in the middle of the park, Scott Parker has been in superb form throughout the campaign, as he has taken up the responsibility of not only spraying the play and keeping the ball ticking over, but also making numerous dogged challenges and constantly using his terrific engine to get himself up and down the pitch.
Elsewhere, although sometimes frustrating with his ambitious decision-making, Italian forward Alessandro Diamanti has shown his menacing skills and sweet left-foot, particularly from free-kicks, in recent weeks. While, only to be whispered in the corridors, the star of West Ham at present has been the much maligned Julien Faubert, who played out of his skin throughout February in a series of top-class performances from right-back, including
Bolton, though, are also scrapping for their Premier League survival, and they arrive at the Upton Park this weekend knowing that a third away win of the season could see them leapfrog the Hammers and edge that much closer to safety.
Owen Coyle’s men have just completed an action-packed sequence of seven games in 22 days that yielded a disappointing three defeats, three draws and just one win. Looking to recharge their batteries, the squad travelled to Dubai in the week to soak up some sun and rest up, before their final push to avoid the drop begins in earnest once more.
Although last time out Bolton picked up a valuable 1-nil win over Wolves, the bigger picture reveals a goal-drought at the Reebok with Bolton having failed to score in any of their five games previous to last weekend’s narrow victory. Ivan Klasnic remains Bolton’s main goal-threat with a club high six goals to his name this season, while battering-rams Kevin Davies and Johan Elmander (five goals between them) need to find their scoring touch soon if Bolton are to beat the drop. (11/1 to be Draw/Bolton.)
Last weekend it was centre-half Zat Knight would stepped up to the plate to bag the three points, and Knight, along with Sam Ricketts, should be credited for having manfully held together Bolton’s backline after the long term injury to Gary Cahill. (Bolton are 4/1 to keep a clean sheet, 1/5 against.) Other positives for the Trotters have arrived in midfield, where Stuart Holden and Jack Wilshere impressed on their home debuts last weekend, while Chung-Yong Lee continues to prove himself as one of the most underrated players in the division.
Bolton have won their last five matches with West Ham in all competitions, having twice beaten the Hammers 3-1 this season in both the Carling Cup and the league. (Bolton are 59/1 to win 3-1 again.) Yet that will count for little heading into this weekend’s encounter, with West Ham arguably the slight favourites to edge this hugely important six-pointer.
101gg predicts: West Ham 1 – Bolton 0 (7/1)
Full match odds here.