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United look to win at Coyle’s new fortress

Bolton's Reebok

By Daniel Alston

Heading into the weekend top of the table thanks to Chelsea dropping points at Blackburn last Sunday, Manchester United look to keep the title charge going against neighbours Bolton Wanderers.

Owen Columba Coyle hasn’t yet stamped out the inconsistency that sees his side win one week, then get spanked the next, but they’ve slowly crept away from the drop zone in the past month, opening up an 8-point gap between themselves and the bottom three.

And in his short reign thus far, Bolton have only tasted defeat once at home – in his first game in charge against Arsenal. Is he turning the Reebok into a fortress much like he did with Turf Moor? And lest we forget, Coyle already has a scalp over Manchester United, with that 1-0 win with Burnley back in August.

Losing at Everton last week may have tarred recent wins over relegation rivals, but a local derby will renew confidence and desire.

The return fixture back in October ended 2-1 to United; an own goal from Zat Knight and Antonio Valencia’s first strike for the club doing the business, despite a late onslaught from the Wanderers and a Matty Taylor consolation.

Since then, Bolton have said goodbye to their unpopular gaffer Gary Megson, stolen their current one from a team 20 miles away and slowly started to claw their way out of danger. Manchester United have continued their winning ways, picking up the Carling Cup, progressing in style in Europe and topping the table with 7 games remaining; all amidst much speculation over the club’s future. Expect a United away support swarmed in green and yellow again for this one.

As for the team news, both sides have been buoyed by injury scares being quelled. There were claims that non-stop scorer Wayne Rooney had picked up a knock to his recently-troubling knee against Liverpool last week, but Sir Alex Ferguson put those worries to bed.

“He’s okay, there’s no problem. He had some bad bruising for a couple of weeks but he’s played [since then] and there’s no problems with the knee.”

Gary Cahill looks set to return to action for the men in white, having been missing for the last two months with a blood clot that was set to affect him in the long-term. Such was its severity, the 24-year old defender had to have a part of a rib removed. Recovering much faster than expected, Cahill completed 90 minutes for the reserves on Monday, putting forward his case for a place in the starting line-up for Saturday’s clash.

Elsewhere for Manchester United, Ryan Giggs may feature after coming on as a substitute at Anfield, while John O’Shea remains sidelined with his own blood clot-related injury. The Irishmen is on the road to recovery however, and should start featuring again next month. Paul Scholes is back from an ankle knock, but will probably have to settle for a place on the bench with the current form of Park, Fletcher and Carrick. Owen Hargreaves is back training with the first team, but this game will come too early for him to play a role.

Business as unusual in defence, with a first-choice backline available for the third game running – a rarity throughout the rest of the campaign, but surely one that Sir Alex is welcoming with the run-in.

Bolton will have to cope without defender Gretar Steinsson following his red card in the defeat to Everton, a void likely to be filled by Sam Ricketts. A young, stylish midfield with Jack Wilshere and Lee Chung-Yong will be out to cause problems for the Red Devils, having worked up a good understanding in recent weeks. Gavin McCann, Chris Basham, Joey O’Brien and Sean Davis all remain on the treatment table.

So what will happen in this teatime clash? Will United go a sixth game unbeaten? Or will Bolton grab some more priceless points in their bid for survival? Leave your comments below…

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