Bolton travel to Villa Park on Tuesday evening looking to close the gap on the teams above them.
Wanderers are currently four points adrift of 17th placed Wigan Athletic after a draw with Swansea on Saturday, but do have two games in hand over their fellow relegation rivals.
The clash with the Villains was originally scheduled for last month, but was postponed amid fears over the health of Fabrice Muamba who collapsed at White Hart Lane just three days before hand.
The midfielder was released from hospital last week however and is now recovering at home – something that will undoubtedly be a boost to his team mates as the season enters its final crucial weeks.
Although it has been a far from comprehensive season for the Whites, their opponents have also experienced a difficult campaign. Villa currently sit just six points above Bolton in 15th position and will certainly be aware of the implications of defeat on Tuesday.
Having lost the influential figure of Darren Bent to injury earlier this year, Alex McLeish’s men have struggled to find any consistency, particularly on home soil where they have picked up just four wins all season.
They played out a goalless draw with Sunderland on Saturday afternoon, but have won just once at home since the turn of the year when they emerged victorious over Fulham back in March.
The two sides have already met at Villa Park this season in the Carling Cup third round where goals from Chris Eagles and Gael Kakuta ensured progression for Owen Coyle’s men.
Villa gained their revenge however in the league fixture at the Reebok Stadium where goals from Marc Albrighton and Stiliyan Petrov secured all three points for the visitors, despite Ivan Klasnic firing home a consolation for the Wanderers.
In the corresponding clash last season, Kevin Davies rescued a point for Bolton after Ashley Young had put the Villains ahead early on in the game.
Bolton will no doubt be aware of their less than impressive record at Villa Park in recent years, where they have suffered three defeats in their last four visits. The Whites last collected maximum points in this clash back in December 2006, where a Gary Speed penalty 15 minutes from time was enough to see off the hosts.
With three points almost a necessity on Tuesday however, Coyle and his players will be hoping to rectify that sooner rather than later.
Despite the disappointment of Saturday’s draw with Swansea, Bolton midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker has called for his team mates to give their all for the final five games of the campaign, starting against his former employers in midweek.
The 27-year-old signed with the Wanderers from Villa last summer, having spent four seasons with the Midlands based club, but revealed that the team are determined to take advantage of their games in hand.
Speaking to the official Bolton Wanderers website after the draw with the Swans, Reo Coker said: “”At the end of the season it could turn out to be a valuable point and we need to build on this now.
“There are good games ahead of us from which we can get results and now it’s all about our belief. It can’t just come from the manager and coaches on the bench, we have to take the responsibility when we cross the white line.
“It’s our job and occupation and we need to step up. We’ve got five cup finals ahead of us – it isn’t just Tuesday’s game. We have to go out and show how much it means.
“It’s still so tight – there are three teams currently in the drop zone and there are three teams sitting just above it who could be dragged in.
“That just shows how competitive it is, so we have to compete. Villa might be on edge with where they are in the league but we have to take advantage of that.”
Defender Gretar Steinsson echoed his team mate’s sentiments, claiming that the matches against Villa and Tottenham Hotspur next month could be decisive.
“It’s important we make the most of our games in hand,” he said. “We need to get points out of every game we’ve got left and wait and see the result.
“It’s in our own hands, if we do our job and get the points we need, we will stay up. If we fail to do so the disaster will happen, but we’ve got all the confidence in each other and I know we’ll go on and get out of trouble.”
In terms of team news, Mark Davies and Ryo Miyaichi will both be given until tomorrow to recover from their respective knocks from the weekend, while Darren Pratley will not be available having failed to recover from a virus.
Coyle’s managerial counterpart and fellow countryman McLeish will still be without a number of key players, with Fabien Delph, Richard Dunne and Stiliyan Petrov all missing alongside striker Bent.
Ciaran Clark, James Collins and Gabriel Agbonlahor are all doubtful with respective injuries, but could be involved should they pass late fitness tests.
With only Wigan and Wolves managing fewer home victories than the Villains this season, Bolton will certainly be hoping that they can add to their five wins on their travels when the sides meet on Tuesday evening.
Three points for McLeish’s men could see them pull away from the relegation mire, while a similar result for the Wanderers would certainly throw the race to beat the drop wide open yet again.
Make no bones about it – this is a game we need to win. The draw with Swansea almost felt like a defeat coupled with the wins for Blackburn and QPR, but we need to take solace from our two games in hand.
We do have to take advantage of those however – there is no point in talking about what could happen if we win these games as we have to actually pick up the points.
Villa will be determined to pull away, but they have struggled this season and I’m hoping that will continue on Tuesday. If we win, the gap is back to just one point and the whole situation will seem a lot brighter.
It’s certainly going to be a tough game and although we desperately need three points, I’ve got a feeling we might end up with just one – I hope I’m wrong though!
Although I think a draw seems more feasible, I’ll go for an optimistic 1-0 win – Kevin Davies with the goal.