Allardyce's rotation vindicated by victory

Bolton Wanderers 1 Fulham 0
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The Independent Football

Last season, Sam Allardyce offended traditionalists by fielding a weakened team in the third round tie against Tranmere Rovers, the subsequent home defeat to a team from two divisions below causing no little embarrassment at a club where the presence of Nat Lofthouse as president offers a perennial reminder of Bolton's proud FA Cup history.

So he seemed to be taking a risk when half a dozen of the players who have lifted Bolton to seventh in the Premier League were omitted against Fulham. But, this time, the outcome was different. And, so far as Allardyce was concerned, it justified not only Saturday's changes but last year's exercise in calculated prioritising.

Despite the potential reward of a place in the last eight, Ivan Campo, El Hadji Diouf and Stelios Giannakopoulos all had the day off, while Ricardo Gardner, Kevin Nolan and Anthony Barness started on the bench. However, Allardyce now has a squad strong enough to replace like with like and the goal from Kevin Davies that saw Bolton through enabled him to defend his past policy with conviction.

"Money overshadows everything in football today, which is a sad statement to make but an undoubted fact," he said. "Fantasy does not come into it any more. Because it is all money-based, the thing you have to protect at all costs is your Premiership status.

"If we had not have done that, I would not now be blessed with the best squad I have ever had. I would be languishing in the First Division, playing in front of 12,000 or 13,000 crowds. So I had to sacrifice something.

"But now I can bring in Fernando Hierro instead of Campo, Vincent Candela for Gardner, Nicky Hunt for Barness, Tal Ben Haim for Rahdi Jaidi, or Davies for Diouf. We can make four or five changes and it is not a weakened team." Indeed, Hierro, now almost 37 but still steeped in the high talent that won him 89 caps for Spain, gave a masterclass as the fulcrum of a midfield triangle; Candela, 40 times a France international and signed on a free transfer from Roma in January, looked as assured as was expected on his debut at left-back.

Paradoxically, Allardyce believes he might even have a case for reversing last season' priorities, Bolton's Premiership place effectively safe for the moment and the Cup offering a route into Europe that the league table will not easily yield.

That may be stretching credibility, given the obstacles that remain in today's quarter-final draw, and a crowd that was 10,000 down on the Reebok's Premier League average suggested the Bolton public are not exactly gripped by Cup fever.

But after Davies had expertly dispatched Henrik Pedersen's lay-off in the 12th minute, Bolton were strong enough to end Fulham's interest. There was a frantic scramble on the home goal-line in stoppage time and Jussi Jaaskelainen made one fine save from Tomasz Radzinski, but otherwise there was not enough punch from Chris Coleman's team, whose priorities are now decided for them.

Goal: Davies (12) 1-0.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-2-1-2) Jaaskelainen; Hunt, Ben Haim, N'Gotty, Candela; Hierro; Speed, Fadiga (Gardner, 62); Okocha (Barness, 85); Pedersen (Nolan 71), Davies. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Vaz Te.

Fulham (4-5-1): Van der Sar; Rosenior, Knight, Goma, Bocanegra; Radzinski, Legwinski (Jensen, 72), Diop, Clark, Boa Morte (John, 77); Cole (McBride, 81). Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Pearce.

Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).

Booked: Bolton: Speed, Nolan. Fulham: John.

Man of the match: Hierro.

Attendance: 16,151.