Allardyce fears Bolton's season may tail off
Sam Allardyce is desperate for Bolton to beat Liverpool tomorrow to ensure all the hard work of the past 12 months does not disintegrate amid the temporary break-up of his squad.
Aside from the four players he is about to lose on African Nations Cup duty, the Trotters manager also lost Kevin Nolan for the start of his FA Cup campaign at Watford next week.
The Bolton skipper picked up his fifth booking of the season in the 4-1 defeat at Manchester United yesterday to leave Allardyce wondering how he will patch his squad up for the Vicarage Road trip.
Already acutely concerned at the damage which could be sustained to Bolton's league form over the next month, Allardyce knows if his side fail to end Liverpool's current 10-match winning streak, they could find themselves sucked back into mid-table.
That could happen by the time his African contingent return in mid-February.
'It is very important for us to secure a victory against Liverpool, so no matter what happens over the difficult period ahead of us, we won't be in too bad a position,' said Allardyce.
'We have a cushion at the moment but that could be lost over the next month, which would be a great shame because we could have been looking at our best ever season.
'Losing four men to the African Nations Cup means we only have 15 outfield players left in the squad. I was concerned about what would happen if we got injuries or suspensions, and immediately we lose Kevin Nolan.'
After a largely outstanding 2005, during which Bolton secured European action for the first time, and a two-legged UEFA Cup tussle with Marseille in February, suddenly the momentum has been halted.
A Carling Cup exit to local rivals Wigan hit Allardyce hard.
But so too did the Boxing Day draw at Sunderland which, after the postponement of the midweek clash with Middlesbrough, means Bolton have picked up just one point from the festive period so far.
The progressive Lancashire outfit still lie in seventh spot, and could move up as high as fourth if they win their two matches in hand.
But it would only take a couple of further setbacks to send them tumbling back into mid-table, which is why Allardyce is calling on his team to summon up the spirit produced in the superb win over Arsenal a month ago.
'We reached a level of performance against Arsenal I knew would be difficult to maintain but felt we should not drop too far below,' he said.
'Sadly, we have done just that. We simply cannot afford to go any lower and ideally, I want us to get back to the Arsenal level, which is where we will need to be to get something from Liverpool.'
Allardyce needs no reminding it was a run of five straight wins at the turn of last year which catapulted Bolton up with the European challengers.
A similar run this time would push them to the fringes of a Champions League spot, which, while asking a lot from such a relatively small club, is the logical next step having come so far already.
'If in 2006 we could match what we did in 2005, it would be an absolute delight,' admitted Allardyce.
'What happened last January was the turning point of our season and although the year has ended in disappointing fashion, we have ended up in a great position with plenty to look forward to.
'We did not play well at Manchester United and deserved exactly what we got but we will try to put it right against Liverpool.'