Wanderers' sense of direction turns Allardyce towards Europe

Bolton Wanderers 1

Portsmouth 0
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The Independent Football

It should hardly come as a surprise any more, and as the new season takes shape it already looks clear that the Lancashire club will be more concerned with the top of the table than the bottom.

Sam Allardyce, the Bolton manager, is still advising caution, naturally, but the mere fact that he is discussing the burgeoning title race gives a more accurate indication of where his team's ambitions really lie.

"We're only in September and haven't even played 10 games yet," he said. "It's too early to say Arsenal or United won't go on a run and win from way back.

"It appears Chelsea won't throw it away, but the rest of us are able to beat each other and we seem to be able to compete with the likes of United and Arsenal at the moment.

"When you've got West Ham and Wigan doing what we did a few years ago it shows the excitement of the Premiership. And Manchester City losing three games in a week shows just how quickly things can change," he said.

That may be true, but with a fourth clean sheet in their last six games, during which time they have claimed 13 Premiership points from a possible 15, Bolton have a head start on the likes of Liverpool and Newcastle United in the race to finish in the top four.

Kevin Nolan's overhead kick ensured the latest victory on Saturday in a match that had a predictable air to it from the moment Bolton went ahead.

"If ever there was a chance to get into the Champions' League it was last year with a few games to go and Everton due here [at the Reebok Stadium] on the last day of the season," said Allardyce. "We didn't quite manage it but if we get as close this year then I would be delighted as the manager of a smaller club like ours."

At the opposite end of the table, Alain Perrin's grip on his job as manager of Portsmouth appears tenuous.

Milan Mandaric has already seen six managers come and go in his six years as the South Coast club's chairman and Perrin's impersonation of Wayne Rooney in sarcastically applauding Mark Clattenburg, the referee, only served to betray a troubled mind.

Out of the Carling Cup and with only one League win to their name, Portsmouth were often accomplished in possession on Saturday but simply failed to defend as a team - witness the ease with which Bolton scored the decisive goal.

"I've every sympathy for him [Perrin]," said Allardyce. "We all lose our cool sometimes when you get a decision that you feel is blatantly against you.

"I think he got a little desperate. You cannot control yourself all the time, but he hasn't hurt anyone and it's not the end of the world so I hope his punishment isn't too severe."

Goal: Nolan (25) 1-0.

Bolton Wanderers (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Hunt (Diouf, 90), Ben Haim, N'Gotty, Pedersen; Nolan, Nakata, Speed (O'Brien, 10), Okocha (Stelios, 73), Gardner; Davies. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Borgetti.

Portsmouth (4-4-1-1): Ashdown; Priske, O'Brien, Stefanovic, Vignal; O'Neil (Songo'o, 72), Diao, Hughes, Taylor (Karadas, 65); Robert; Silva (Todorov, 85). Substitutes not used: Westerveld (gk), Skopelitis.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).

Booked: Bolton Wanderers Ben Haim, Nolan; Portsmouth Stefanovic, Priske.

Man of the match: Nakata.

Attendance: 23,134.