Bolton put pressure on Chelsea

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 April, 2006, 12:00am

Crucial fixture for Mourinho's men with United breathing down their necks

Chelsea wrapped up the Premiership title on their last visit to Bolton 12 months ago, but Jose Mourinho's team are under much greater pressure for tonight's trip to the Reebok.

Unless Manchester United slipped up at home to Sunderland last night, Chelsea should wake up today in the knowledge their lead at the top is down to four points. And, with United due to visit Stamford Bridge later this month, the champions can hardly afford to drop any points.

This is not a bad time to visit Bolton, however. Sam Allardyce's team have gone off the boil since they went out of the Uefa Cup in late February, losing six of their last nine games. One of those defeats was against West Ham in the FA Cup, and that appears to have knocked their confidence even further. Their only win since came against bottom club Sunderland.

Chelsea will be wary of the threat from Bolton, however. Although Bolton rarely beat the top sides, they have the ability to make things very difficult - they came from two goals down for a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge last season, and they kept Chelsea at bay for an hour in last season's game at the Reebok before Frank Lampard bagged both goals in a 2-0 win.

Bolton have beaten Arsenal and Tottenham at home this season, and drawn with Liverpool, and even in their current form they gave Manchester United a tough game two weeks ago. Bolton opened the scoring before going down to a Ruud Van Nistelrooy winner 11 minutes from time.

On overall form Chelsea should win, but Bolton wouldn't be any manager's choice of opposition when there is so much at stake. Bolton will set out to frustrate Chelsea and build up the pressure on the champions, who have been struggling to score in recent away games. Under 2.5 goals looks the best bet, though Bolton are worth considering on the handicap for those who believe the pressure might be getting to Chelsea.

The best bet in the Premiership on paper is West Ham, at home to Manchester City. The visitors are out of form, mainly due to the key absences of Andy Cole and Joey Barton, and their away record is poor. City have taken only one point out of a possible 24 away to top-half teams, and that was in the Manchester derby early in the season. They've lost six out of six on the road in the league this year, scoring just two goals during that run. Nor did they score to secure their last away point, in a 0-0 at Middlesbrough on December 28. There is one piece of positive news for City, which is that Barton could return this weekend, but even so they lack a serious goal threat without Cole.

West Ham appear more committed to their FA Cup run, with a semi-final to come next weekend. Since their quarter-final last month, West Ham have won only one of seven in the league, with manager Alan Pardew rotating his squad to keep his best players fresh for the cup. With two games over the weekend, Pardew might decide to play his best side today and try to secure three home points, before changing the side around for Monday's trip to Middlesbrough. West Ham look worth the chance at the available odds.

The other attractive bet in the Premiership is Tottenham on the handicap at Everton. Spurs have lost only three of 11 to teams outside the top seven.

Best homes: Arsenal, West Ham.

Best aways: Chelsea, Spurs.