Bolton host Sunderland at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday in a game of little significance to either end of the English Premier League table.Wanderers are nine points and goal difference behind fifth-placed Liverpool and sixth-placed Tottenham, meaning Owen Coyle’s side will not be featuring in Europe next season.
Birmingham City and Stoke City have qualified for the Europa League courtesy of their respective Carling Cup and FA Cup heroics.
All that is left for Bolton this season is pride and they could edge higher up the table if they defeat the Black Cats and seventh-placed Everton lose to Manchester City on Sunday.
Sunderland are just six points above the relegation zone and have lost nine of their past 11, with their only win since their 2-1 triumph over Blackpool in January a com-from-behind 4-2 win over Wigan.
Steve Bruce’s side seem safe from the relegation mire, but an away win would certainly lift confidence levels and mathematically sew up their top-flight status for next season.
Sunderland’s problem has been their impotency in front of goal, having been kept scoreless in six of their past eight games, losing five of them.
Their profligacy in the front third has not been helped by season-ending injuries to strikers Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck – the latter of which scored the only goal in Sunderland’s victory in the reverse fixture in December.
Darren Bent – now with Aston Villa after an 18 million-pound move in January – provided the assist for Welbeck against Bolton at the Stadium of Light, just one sign of how the fortunes have changed for Bruce’s side in the space of a season.
Bolton have problems of their own, with Gretar Steinsson, Sam Ricketts, Stuart Holden, Mark Davies and Daniel Sturridge all missing in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Blackburn.
Only Sturridge is rated a chance to return and – with seven goals in nine appearances since the striker’s loan move from Chelsea in January – he looms as one Bruce will have to watch carefully on Saturday.