As they proved when we met here in the league last week, Bolton are a very difficult team to beat, particularly away from home where they have developed a system that plays to their strengths, suits their outlook and is hard for opponents to overcome. Both sides will have learned a great deal about the other from that first encounter and it is up to us to impose ourselves and ensure that we again come out on top.
However, having won that league game doesn’t make this one any easier for us. In fact, it can mean the opposite. To beat a Premiership side two games running is always hard to do but it is up to us to play our own game and let them worry about us.
That Premiership meeting was the first in an eight-match run that we now face up to January 1. It’s a busy and demanding schedule that we’ve started well and now we have to maintain. We have spoken about it together as a group and there’s no doubt that we will need all our excellent spirit to keep it going, maintain consistency and come through it all successfully.
What I am pleased with is that we are staying, touch wood, relatively injury free and are starting to bring back some of our long-term injuries like Stephen Clemence, Steffen Iversen and Tim Sherwood who are currently getting themselves fit in Reserve games. We still have others like Stephen Carr and Gary Doherty who remain further off but the nucleus of the squad is coming together again and the timing is good because we need everyone fit and available during this testing period.
Once again I want to pay tribute to the patience of our crowd. As with Middlesbrough, when we went one goal down to Bolton our supporters showed that they can see that this team is capable of turning things around so they stayed with us and really played their part in that victory. That certainly hasn’t always been the case here — and I can say that from my experience as a player! But these days the crowd really gets and stays behind the players and obviously the lads respond to that.
We need more of the same tonight. In addition the spirit in the camp remains excellent and, although that has been the case here throughout the season so far, it is obviously enhanced by a few wins and the type of positive performance that makes you want to get out there and do it again.
There has been an emphasis change here in the way that we’re trying to pass the ball and I am delighted with the response of the players. We are working hard on how we can cause people problems.
We are always aware of and ensure that we look after what other sides are good at but it’s what we’re doing with the ball that matters. That’s the theme we’re working on for the majority of the time and maybe in the past that wasn’t always the case.
We’re also adaptable in our play — as we illustrated when the two teams last met. We had to change things at half-time and the players proved very alert to what was needed and did exactly what was asked of them. We also had Les Ferdinand on the bench who was able to go on and change the game, an asset that all the top clubs have at their disposal.
It’s not all about the 11 who start the game. You need substitutes of that calibre who can greatly influence proceedings and that situation is beginning to evolve here as our injured lads return to strengthen the squad. With the FA Cup to come in the first week of January, we’re going to need them all.
Get behind the lads once again and let’s show the strength of unity that we can generate here at the Lane.
Welcome back to Sam Allardyce and to everyone from Bolton for our second successive meeting here at White Hart Lane.