At this stage of the season, gaining objectives is largely a matter of getting the mental processes working correctly. For instance, Sven Goran Eriksson, having seen his Manchester City team gain a hard-earned point that keeps a Uefa Cup place in the realms of theoretical possibility, if not probability, insists that his men are thinking only in non-specific terms, seeking to gain as many points as they can before the season ends.
Eriksson's counterpart, Gary Megson, is facing more pressing concerns, however, as his faltering unit remains in the relegation zone despite another performance in which they demonstrated all their familiar virtues of industry.
Megson maintains he is not assigning a points target required for safety. But it had not escaped his attention, before an attritional Greater Manchester derby played in constant chill wind and occasional clamourous hail, that West Ham had two fewer points at the same stage of last season than Bolton have now yet maintained their Premier League status.
The problem with setting specific goals is that life tends to upset the fine calculations. Who, for instance, would have expected the team who began the day one place above them, Sunderland, to have won at Aston Villa on Saturday?
Bolton are patently a team desperate for inspiration, or failing that, a big dollop of luck. Despite the unremitting industry of their captain, Kevin Nolan, and the indefatigable Kevin Davies, who saw a 90th-minute header cleared off the line by Martin Petrov, the home side laboured painfully to connect in front of fans who did not give replicate any of the dissent they had voiced during the previous Sunday's defeat at Wigan. As possession was thrown away by first Nolan, then Danny Guthrie, then Gretar Steinsson and El Hadj Diouf with a one-two that never made it past one, there was no more than a murmur of regret from the Bolton faithful.
But if the team that has just taken its leave of the Uefa Cup is not to greet the Championship this summer they have to start complementing their efforts with some of the adeptness that characterised their play under – yes – Sam Allardyce. "In terms of the game, and the chances we had, it was two points lost," Megson said. "But it's a point gained on the team now immediately above us and the one below us."
Arsenal's visit next Saturday could make even this return appear ample, however. And Bolton are running out of time.
Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Al Habsi; Steinsson, Cahill, A O'Brien, Gardner (S O'Brien, h-t); Campo (McCann, 64); Davies, Guthrie, Nolan, Taylor (Stelios, 84); Diouf. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Raziak.
Manchester City (4-5-1): Hart; Corluka, Dunne, Onuoha, Garrido; Vassell (Caceido, 58), Ireland (Elano, 58), Fernandes, Johnson, Petrov; Benjani. Substitutes not used: Isaksson (gk), Sun, Castillo.
Booked: Bolton Nolan.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).
Man of the match: Petrov.
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