10 March ~ Sky's decision to foist the inconvenience of a lunchtime kick off on Queens Park Rangers' travelling support tells you everything you need to know about today's game against Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok. Last time these two were together in the top flight, in 1995-96, the season ended with Rangers just one place above Bolton at the foot of the table. Although Bolton were promoted again the following season, it took QPR 15 years, including three in the third tier, to find their way back. Now, as two of five clubs showing minimal interest in avoiding the drop, the only thing you can say for certain is that Manchester City are unlikely to go down with them this time round.
QPR made a promising start but faded fast as Christmas approached. Presumably unimpressed by the January acquisition of Federico Macheda, the board hit the panic button and ditched Neil Warnock in favour of Mark Hughes, who quickly spent decent money on the Premier League experience of Bobby Zamora, Djibril Cissé and Nedum Onuoha. Despite a 4-0 opening day win at QPR, Bolton started the season badly and maintained an alarming level of consistency throughout. Owen Coyle steered clear of age and experience in his January recruitment, plumping instead for forward-thinking youth in Marvin Sordell (Watford) and Ryo Miyaichi (Arsenal), and defensive inexperience in Tim Ream from the New York Red Bulls, who at least offers an alternative to the increasingly lamentable Zat Knight.
Coyle briefly seemed to have found the key to his side at the turn of the year, finally going 4-5-1 to take seven points from games against Everton, Liverpool and Arsenal before reverting to 4-4-2 at the first sign of trouble and undoing all the good work, most gallingly when Wanderers were outplayed by Wigan at the Reebok. For all QPR's struggles since Christmas, they at least managed to beat Wigan at Loftus Road.
Bolton will do their best to take heart from a relatively kind run-in despite knowing that it was their inability to beat Norwich, Wigan and Wolves among others that got them into this mess in the first place. With six of the league's current top seven still to play, QPR will be eager to give themselves some breathing space where they can. Despite taking just two points from their last six games, Rangers will see today as an opportunity to do just that. With Cissé returning from suspension and Zamora already two goals into his QPR career, the side will carry an attacking threat – something of which Wanderers have been almost completely devoid since a pulsating but goalless draw with Arsenal at the beginning of February.
Patience with Owen Coyle is wearing thin among Bolton fans. His constant tinkering with tactics and personnel has left fans and players alike bewildered. Darren Pratley and Tuncay have been taking it in turns to be ineffectual ahead of Martin Petrov and Chris Eagles, poor Fabrice Muamba doesn't know if he's coming or going, and top scorer Ivan Klasnic has seen just 27 minutes of action this calendar year. Arsenal loanee Miyaichi has shown glimpses of promise down the left, while the fitness and correct deployment of Muamba, Nigel Reo-Coker and Mark Davies will be key if Bolton are to survive.
Coyle has to choose his best team quickly, set them up properly and then give them the chance to keep him in the Premier League because, if Bolton do go down, it could be a very long time before they come back. Just ask a QPR fan. Jon Callow