The Bolton Wanderers manager, Owen Coyle, is convinced his side can win at Stoke on Sunday and bank on other results to secure their Premier League survival – and has told the club's fans that they have a vital part to play.
Bolton's capitulation against West Bromwich on Sunday, when they led 2-0 only to be dragged back to 2-2 at the death, means they must win at the Britannia Stadium to stand any chance of staying up. Coyle is convinced his side can pull off a great escape, given their form on their travels this season, with six wins – only two sides outside the top five can claim more.
Coyle said yesterday: "We were always going to have to go to Stoke and get a result. We have to make sure we are on top of our game when we go to the Britannia Stadium next Sunday. Given the way we have played on our travels this year and the results that we have picked up, we are more than capable. Football is a game of high drama and things can change very quickly.
"We really appreciate the backing our fans continue to give. We are taking a sell-out allocation to Stoke and we will need every single fan behind us."
Coyle faces an anxious wait to discover whether two of his most influential players can take part, after Martin Petrov and David Wheater were substituted with knocks against Albion.
The West Bromwich chairman, Jeremy Peace, will step up his search for a replacement for the England-bound manager Roy Hodgson this week, with a club spokesman confirming it is an "ongoing process".
The club's striker Shane Long believes that whoever replaces Hodgson will inherit a team capable of pushing on and improving on a season that is now set to deliver a place in the top half of the table.
Long said: "We don't know how to lose at the moment and it's a good frame of mind to be in. We don't give up easily and that will stand us in good stead for next season. To show the determination to want to win games is a credit to us. We've had some really good results away from home and it's because we always have a good turnout of fans."
Aston Villa pulled themselves to safety on Sunday with a 1-1 draw at home to Tottenham that put them three points ahead of Bolton. A 17-goal swing would be needed to relegate them if they lost on Sunday, at Norwich, and Bolton won.
Villa's manager, Alex McLeish, can point to a shortage of experience, a lengthy injury list, blooding too many youngsters and having to reduce the wage bill drastically as mitigating circumstances for the club's struggles this season.
He said: "We are assessing next season. It's all been ongoing. We've been assessing it every single week. We've got to start putting a plan of action in place. Listen, I have taken a lot of weight on my shoulders this season. I was happy to take pressure off the players.
"I am not going to again next season, though. They had better get their finger out. We've had to be in a bit of a dogfight all season. Our early-season form wasn't too bad, but since the new year we've had problems to contend with injury-wise. To lose two of your most experienced players [Darren Bent and Richard Dunne] for such a long time will hurt any team."
McLeish has struggled to win over the Villa fans and there were again calls for his sacking in some quarters after Sunday's match. But he said: "I think the Villa fans in general have been excellent. I met some nice people at the end-of-season dinner the other night. I felt the guys I met were genuine, they knew what I was working with. If I get that kind of understanding, then great.
"I would certainly look to be strengthening the squad for next season. This season we have taken the plunge into the reduction of wages. It's hopefully helped the finances a little bit. It has put us through the mill, but we're planning and we can rise. At clubs I've worked with before, with proper planning, we've done well. If I can go through that this season, I will have to have a crack at the big time and try and enhance the quality of the squad."
McLeish received backing from the Spurs manager, Harry Redknapp, who said: "Alex has had a hard season. The league is getting tougher, everyone is having a go. They need to have a bit of a go next year to try and get back to where they were, to give Alex a chance. Villa keep producing good young players and have got a fantastic youth set-up. But Alex needs one or two players to strengthen his team."Reuse content