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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 1 day ago
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By ESPN Staff
Apr 13, 2007

Allardyce plays down Champs League chances

Bolton manager Sam Allardyce has been left bemused by the renewed desire of his players to focus on the prospect of Champions League football for next season.

Seven points from the last three games have pushed Bolton within two points of a faltering Arsenal side ahead of tomorrow's crunch showdown at the Emirates Stadium.

Allardyce has been desperately trying to play down Bolton's hopes as he can recall how costly it proved last time they voiced their thoughts.

The players, though, have been talking up such an ambition, one that may draw closer to reality if Bolton can beat Arsenal in a league game on their own turf for the first time for 45 years.

Allardyce believes they should simply remain focused on clinching a UEFA Cup spot for now, and then see if anything materialises beyond that.

'I've no desire to call for a Champions League spot whatsoever,' said Allardyce. 'I don't know why the players are talking about it because when we did that last time we all blew it.

'We had a terrific opportunity at the end of December to draw and win the odd extra game than we did, yet we fell apart. We lost to Liverpool 3-0; Middlesbrough 5-1; Tottenham 4-1 and Manchester United 4-1, all away from home.

'We appeared more like a relegation-threatened side than a potential Champions League side. We've since got it back together again now, and let's just be happy about that.

'We're still in fifth spot, and we have been for some time, so let's be confident about trying to keep that position. Anything after that, let's wait and see. But Champions League football is not on my expectation list, and neither should it be on theirs.'

Bolton at least appear to have their best chance of an elusive win in north London bearing in mind Arsenal's stuttering form.

A point at Newcastle on Monday ended a run of three successive defeats, including their first of the season at the Emirates Stadium when they lost 1-0 to relegation strugglers West Ham.

Arsene Wenger's side have also scored just one goal in the last four matches, and now Allardyce is hoping they are catching the Gunners at a bad time.

'We don't have the same fears we used to about playing at Arsenal because of the tremendous performances over the last six years,' added Allardyce.

'While we've not won there, those performances have allowed the players to feel a little more relaxed and more confident about playing at the Emirates Stadium.

'We came close earlier this season when we drew with them in the FA Cup. Maybe we can now take it one stage further and do the ultimate for the first time by beating them in the Premiership.

'That would be a top result - probably one of our best this season - and there is an opportunity because they are struggling to score goals.

'I think their performances are still top drawer. The talented players are still passing the ball as well as they always have, and the movement is as good as it always has been.

'But the final product is not there because they don't have their two leading goalscorers in (Robin) van Persie and (Thierry) Henry. It's that simple.

'Hopefully we can take advantage of that, like West Ham did. That would be absolutely terrific.'

Kevin Nolan returns to skipper the side after completing a two-match ban, but Tal Ben Haim remains doubtful with a hamstring niggle.