Owen Coyle has said that Bolton winning the FA Cup this year would be the perfect tribute to Nat Lofthouse.
Bolton have not won a major trophy since the Cup in 1958, when Lofthouse scored both goals in the 2-0 defeat of Manchester United. Lofthouse died earlier this year, and the Bolton manager believes that winning the Cup in May would be a "marvellous occasion". If they win their sixth-round tie at Birmingham City this afternoon they would be one match away from their first FA Cup final since the game that Lofthouse made his own.
"Everybody knows how sad everybody was with Nat's passing," said Coyle of the man who scored 255 league goals for his home-town club in 452 appearances. "I think it's important we remembered all the good things that he brought, not only to the football club but also the community. It would be lovely to achieve that, but we know there's some difficult obstacles in the way. But we'll do everything we can to try to progress, and if it all came together then obviously it would be a marvellous occasion."
With Daniel Sturridge cup-tied, Ivan Klasnic has played an important role in Bolton's progress so far. The Croat scored the only goal in both the fourth-round replay at Wigan and their fifth-round win at Fulham. Coyle praised his contribution to their run so far, as well as his winning goal against Aston Villa last weekend. "Ivan's done fantastic, not only on Saturday, but also scoring the winning goals at Wigan and Fulham, so he's certainly done himself no harm. He's looking 100 per cent fit, he's looking sharp and we know he's a terrific goalscorer."
Bolton will face a Birmingham side who have already won one trophy this year, having beaten Arsenal in the League Cup final last month. But only goal difference is currently keeping them out of the relegation zone and Alex McLeish has admitted that survival is their priority. "The league is more important to us," he said. "There is no doubt about it. But I owe it to the Birmingham fans to play the strongest team available. It might not be strong enough to win. I could play my best team against Bolton, and we could still lose because they are a good side. We could lose but we don't plan to. We are going to try to win this game."
Some changes might be forced upon McLeish, with Lee Bowyer, Keith Fahey, Stephen Carr, Liam Ridgewell, Craig Gardner and Nikola Zigic all doubts for today's match, while David Bentley is out. These absences could open up a place for David Murphy, the left-back who missed all of last season with a knee injury.
"I did wonder if I would ever get back fully fit again," admitted Murphy, who dreams of another Wembley final. "For me, to have the chance to get to Wembley is extra special after the injury. The FA Cup is one of the major competitions in the world. Everyone watches it and to play in an FA Cup final or semi-final would be fantastic. It is just great to be back playing and back involved all the time. I'd love to get more game time but we will have to see what happens."
Murphy has experience of Birmingham's current situation, having been a Middlesbrough trainee in 1997 when they were relegated from the Premiership while reaching both cup finals. "I was at both of those finals with Boro," he recalled. "It wasn't very nice and then for the club to get relegated was a horrible feeling, the worst feeling. Birmingham don't want to do that. If it meant us surviving in the Premier League and getting knocked out of the Cup, I think everyone would take that."
Kick-off: Today, 12.45pm (ESPN)
Lee Dixon's prediction: Away winReuse content