Allardyce calls on Bolton to send Europe a message

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The Independent Football

Sam Allardyce is urging his unsung Bolton side to prove they deserve to mix it with the rich and famous. Wanderers only achieved promotion to the Premiership in 2001 but find themselves hosting the French aristocrats, Marseilles, in the last 32 of the Uefa Cup tonight.

Bolton advanced to the knock-out stage with an unbeaten record in their group and Allardyce believes further progress would be an extraordinary achievement.

"If we overcame Marseilles it would send a real message to the whole of Europe, showing what we are about," the Bolton manager said. "I don't think people realise how big they are. You go there and see 50,000 people supporting a team so passionately. Marseilles' history and tradition puts them alongside the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea."

Allardyce wants the Bolton public to come out in numbers - unlike in previous rounds - and drive the team on. He added: "I know it is difficult financially but we could make history this season. You can't get a ticket for the game in Marseilles. What is the point, though, of going there if we have lost 3-0. We might not lose like that if the fans turn up in numbers. All the players and I know how important it is to raise the roof."

Bolton go into the match on a good run of form. They are unbeaten since the turn of the year and almost invincible at home, suffering just one League defeat against Everton in August.

They have continued to prove difficult to beat despite losing players to the African Nations' Cup and injuries to a number of key men like Gary Speed and Ivan Campo. A Champions' League spot is still a possibility and there is an FA Cup fifth-round tie against West Ham United to look forward to on Saturday.

Allardyce said: "The lads have been magnificent over the last six weeks. Unfortunately they haven't got the results they deserved. But we are undefeated in that time and playing at the Reebok. That should really encourage us. The team has been galvanised by the criticism we have taken. We have shown we can maintain good results with a small squad."

The striker El-Hadji Diouf looks set to sit out the game and could be facing a hernia operation. Diouf suffered the injury while on African Nations' Cup duty with Senegal and Jared Borgetti is standing by. Allardyce said: "They filled him with painkillers and we might have to pay the price."

Jay-Jay Okocha is set to return with Hidetoshi Nakata suspended.

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