Football: Allardyce decides Cup is Bolton's best route to Europe

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The Independent Online
THE BOLTON manager Sam Allardyce believes that the FA Cup, not the Premiership, presents the best opportunity for the club to enter Europe next season.

Allardyce and his players have turned their season on its head since the start of the year, taking 13 points out of 15 in the League, and are through to the fifth round of the Cup.

Their 3-1 win over Tottenham at the Reebok Stadium on Tuesday was the club's sixth successive victory, and their fifth in a row against Tottenham, which is in stark contrast to the way they finished 2004. Bolton looked destined to face another relegation battle as all their hard work at the start of the season evaporated during a run of six straight defeats. But Allardyce has found a formula to help stop the rot and now Bolton are again within touching distance of a top-six finish and with it the prospect of a place in next season's Uefa Cup.

Allardyce, though, is targeting that possibility via the FA Cup, unsurprisingly as Bolton are favourites to progress to the quarter-finals after a home tie in the last 16 against either Derby or Fulham. With Premiership heavyweights Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal all still in the competition, there is every chance the runners-up will gain admission into Europe.

"Our quickest way to Europe is through the FA Cup," Allardyce said. "We've got Crystal Palace in the League on Saturday to complete a hectic three games in six days, and we don't want to waste that opportunity, with Middlesbrough the Saturday after. We then look forward to the Cup again, whether it be Derby or Fulham, and it would be much better if we went that way first and focused on that completely now."

Despite Bolton's resurgence, Allardyce is unsure whether Bolton can finish sixth, even though they are only a point and two places off a free-falling Middlesbrough, who occupy that place.

"I don't know at this moment," he said. "We thought about it in December prior to a reasonable set of fixtures and yet we lost every game. But since then we've beaten Arsenal and taken four points off them this season, and now we have done the double over Tottenham and moved above them in the League, yet we've spent nothing. What we have achieved this season, and what we are producing now, is absolutely fantastic for everybody at the club. But you have to go back to the old adage - and I know it bores everybody to death - we will take one game at a time."

Allardyce has his players believing in themselves again and perhaps that was part of the attraction for the club's new player Vincent Candela, who was unveiled before kick-off on Tuesday after signing on loan until the end of the season from Roma.

The acquisition of the France international defender is another transfer coup for Allardyce, who feels his squad now is the strongest it has been during his time at the club.

"The squad is full of confidence and has the right amount of quality this season," Allardyce said. "We've got through two rounds of the Cup by making six or seven changes and the players have deserved to win both games.

"That shows the strength of the squad is good enough to get us, not just into the top half of the Premiership and to stay there, but also as far as we can in the FA Cup."