NEARLY 5,000 Everton fans will make the short trip to Bolton on Saturday for an FA Cup fourth round tie which has captured Evertonian imaginations.
But the Blues admit they could have sold twice that figure.
The Blues have bucked the national trend in the FA Cup in recent seasons.
While many clubs struggle to sell out Cup ties, David Moyes’ men were watched by almost 7,000 travelling fans for a Wednesday night quarter-final replay at Sunderland last season.
And their allocation of 1,103 tickets for the televised Monday night trip to Cheltenham in this season’s third round were snapped up within hours by season ticket holders who had to have attended at least seven Premier League away games to qualify.
Everton have made strenuous efforts to satisfy their supporters’ appetite for this weekend’s tie, but have been told that safety issues have prevented them receiving a greater allocation.
Everton fans will have the entire end usually reserved for visiting supporters at the Reebok Stadium, but the design of the stadium and the distribution of home season ticket holders means that attempts to also secure an entire side-section of the stadium have been knocked back.
According to FA rules, host clubs must offer a minimum of 15 per cent of their capacity to visiting supporters – a move which helps create the unique Cup tie atmosphere missing in some Premier League games.
Bolton have actually given Everton 16.2 per cent, and requests for even more have been rejected by the club’s safety group – made up of Greater Manchester Police officials and local councillors.
Greater Manchester Police are notoriously cautious about visiting fan requests after experiences with Rangers supporters in recent seasons descending on Bolton for a pre-season friendly and Manchester city centre for a UEFA Cup final.
Saturday’s clash has a traditional Saturday afternoon 3pm kick-off, but even despite Everton’s most recent trip to Southampton being switched to Monday night for live TV screening, the Blues quickly sold out of their initial 1,750 allocation and had to ask for more.
The gate for Bolton’s third round tie with Sunderland was just 12,000, but the Trotters are anticipating in the region of 17,000 at the weekend.
Bolton’s six feet six inch centre-half Zat Knight is relishing the chance to lock horns with Everton’s own in-form skyscraper, Marouane Fellaini, in the tie.
“I’ve played against him a few times and he’s a real handful,” said Knight, who is one of the few players who can look down on the six feet four inch Fellaini.
“You look at how he is playing in the Premier League and he’s doing very well. He’s probably been their main player.
“But I look at everyone as a test. It was Glenn Murray on Saturday at Crystal Palace, but if it’s Fellaini this weekend, then fine. My target is still to be in the team and getting a clean sheet, the same as it is against anyone.
“It’s probably going to be our biggest test this season because this is the best team we will have faced.
“But when you are playing well, you want to play anyone, regardless of whether it’s the league or the cup.
“Let’s see how well we have come on. We will need to be at our best because they have certainly not done too badly themselves.”
One player who won’t be involved in the FA Cup this weekend is Everton’s on-loan midfielder Ross Barkley.
The Blues have refused permission for the 19-year-old to play for Leeds against Tottenham on Sunday.
“We asked the question, but it’s perfectly understandable that he won’t be available,” said Leeds boss Neil Warnock.