All the focus this Sunday will be on the Carling Cup final as London and its money spinning grand finale takes centre stage. Rightly so; but there are other agendas that are of great importance in this twenty team competition. One such agenda is Blackburn Rovers` home form. It has been poor throughout with a paltry sum of just 13 goals in 13 games. However, a robust and traditional Lancashire hot-pot of a fixture could be the ideal place to change things.
Bolton come to Ewood off the back of their impressive UEFA Cup victory against Athletic Madrid and looking to avenge the defeat inflicted upon them by Rovers and Jason Roberts` wonder goal. In traditional manner this would finish as a Bolton win because in recent years it has been the away team who have excelled in these fixtures.
However, the interesting study that runs through this game is how beneficial rest can be for a team. Rovers haven`t played for nearly two weeks whereas Bolton, as aforementioned, were in action in Spain on Thursday.
Can Rovers make the most of an extended period of rest to kick on and finish the season strongly? A run of winnable games awaits, a run that Rovers need to capitalise on, starting against Bolton.
Rovers boss Mark Hughes: ‘We’ve always gone away at this time of year and come back refreshed (after a break) and gone on a decent run.
‘The idea is we come back refreshed and looking ahead to what we have – 12 games or so – and we are looking to win as many of those as we can.
‘We want to finish the season well and get into one of those European places.‘
Hughes backs Gamst to start firing: “Morten’s had a bit of a spell where he has been disappointed with his form, but that can happen to a lot of players.
‘But perhaps the emergence of David Bentley this season has shifted the focus of our play away from Morten and moved it more to the right-hand side of the team.
‘Morten is maybe suffering from that as a consequence, but I’ve seen enough from him in training and during games to tell me that he is doing his best to make an impact. Morten, though, has always been able to play himself back into form.“
Bolton captain Kevin Nolan: ‘We’ve got some vital Premier League games coming up, and none more so than Blackburn on Sunday.
‘That game is so important to us and we hope to get a positive result there.
‘The fact that we are through to the last 16 (in the Uefa Cup) for the first time in our history is magnificent, but we will not get carried away.‘
Blackburn Rovers Team News:
Rovers have slight problems defensively with club captain Ryan Nelsen still absent and Andre Ooijer failing to recover from his hamstring strain. However, Chris Samba returns from his two game suspension and will partner Zurab Khizanishvili in the centre. Elsewhere on the pitch, Mark Hughes welcomes back Morten Gamst Pedersen and David Dunn. Both are likely to move straight back into the side. It remains to be seen who will partner Roque Santa Cruz up front. McCarthy scored twice against Bolton last season whereas Jason Roberts scored a brilliant winner against them earlier in the campaign. Rovers need more home goals so Hughes will be telling his players to be a little more expansive.
Player to watch: Morten Gamst Pedersen
He has to come good sooner or later and after the confidence boost through his managers words today would be the perfect spectacle. Can today be the day the left side of Rovers wins us a game for the first time in a while?
Bolton Wanderers Team News:
Gary Megson is expected to mix things up a little for this fixture as he aims to put out a fresh starting eleven. Gretar Steinsson and Tamir Cohen are available again after being cup-tied for the mid-week game but Ricardo Gardner is struggling.
Bolton from: Jaaskelainen, Hunt, A O’Brien, Cahill, Meite, Guthrie, J O’Brien, Steinsson, Gardner, Stelios, Nolan, Campo, Cohen, Taylor, Diouf, Davies, Helguson, Samuel, McCann, Al Habsi, Alonso, Teymourian.
Player to watch: Nolan
He has had an indifferent season so far but we saw his quality against us with that screamer of a strike and he will be at the centre of everything they produce.
Match Facts & Stats
Rovers are pressing for a first win in five; drawn three and lost one since beating Bolton 1-2 at the Reebok on 13 January.
Rovers have not scored in two or 202 minutes (three hours 22 minutes) since Roque Santa Cruz opened the scoring in the 1-1 draw with Aston Villa at Villa Park on 26 January.
Rovers have only opened the scoring in eight games this season; only Derby have an inferior record, scoring first in seven.
Red card Clattenburg is in charge of the game. He has issued the red card seven times so far, including the red to Brett Emerton in 5-3 Wigan defeat.
In recent years this game has been decided by the odd goal and usually with the away side emerging victorious. Bolton won at Ewood last season by a single goal and after Rovers missed two penalties. However, Rovers have won both of the last two games against Bolton 2-1. Rovers are not scoring enough goals at Ewood Park but with Bolton potentially weary and struggling for form in the league, plus the added ingredient of this being a local derby, Rovers have to take advantage and for once make home comforts count.
I predict, with the heart ruling the head, the trip to Florida will have done the players a world of good and a refreshed and eager Rovers side will steam roller Bolton. 3-1 Rovers.
The next game is away at Newcastle.