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Jul 29, 2008

Megson must do more than survive

Given the travails of last season, few Bolton fans can be anything but happy at their club's continuing status as a Premier League club. At various points of 2007/8 the club looked doomed to the Championship and the idea that Big Sam Allardyce had lived up to his name and become bigger than the club he established in the top division .

That Allardyce flopped so badly at Newcastle would have been scant consolation for Trotters fans in the face of relegation. As it was they had to endure a false dawn under the hapless Sammy Lee, who was removed after just 11 games as his side rivalled Derby for mediocrity.

That Gary Megson would be the man to right the lurching ship seemed hugely unlikely. Names like Chris Coleman and Graeme Souness, both with an element of success at the top level, were linked with taking the Reebok reins. As a result of his friendship with Megson's agent Mark Curtis, chairman Phil Gartside's choice of the former Baggies boss was labelled nepotism gone mad. Megson's Premier League record was one relegation and one sacking as relegation beckoned in two seasons.

Yet Gartside obviously chooses his friends well. Megson's seargent-major approach may have been a throwback to the Allardyce era but it worked. Lee's attempts to instil a passing game had made the Trotters far easier to beat. Megson went back to basics and yielded results, with a league win over Manchester United and an away draw at Bayern Munich, with a second-string line-up, entering the Bolton book of famous results.

Many put initial success down to the usual effects of a new broom and by the time they were beaten 4-1 at Blackburn the rescue job looked in danger of failing badly. Most put this down to another Gartside gamble after Bolton had accepted £15m for Nicolas Anelka and looked doomed as a result. The Frenchman had already scored 11 goals by the time of his sale. Heidar Helguson barely seemed an adequate replacement.

But Megson was to prove the doubters wrong. More Gartside gambling followed when he ordered his manager to play a reserve line-up in a UEFA Cup match with Sporting Lisbon. They followed their expected exit with one point from five matches and it seemed luck had run out.

However, the poor form of their relegation rivals gave Bolton the chance they were to seize with an unbeaten run of six matches, including four wins; Megson's monicker of 'the ginger Mourinho' was restored and the final match of the season saw Bolton deny Jose's old team as safety was secured.

Megson now finds himself in the unfamiliar position of bossing a team in the Premier League for the second successive season. Seen as a stop-gap appointment, with many nodding and winking towards Allardyce's current unemployment, he may have to get results fast if Gartside is not to start rolling the dice again.

The fact that Megson has been backed in the transfer market may point otherwise. To follow the arrival of Matt Taylor, Gary Cahill, Gretar Steinsson and Tamir Cohen in January, Bolton have broken their transfer record in signing Johan Elmander from Toulouse for £10m. Midfielder Fabrice Muamba from Birmingham cost £5m and will add steel and some element of class to the engine room.

Some familiar faces have exited the Reebok over the summer. Ivan Campo had his registration renewed by Megson after his fall-out with Sammy Lee but then fell out with his new boss so that his exit became inevitable. Stelios Giannakopoulos played at Euro 2008 without a club after years of sterling service. Mikel Alonso departed the scene after failing to impress on loan after the signing of Cahill.

Megson may take his transfer dealings to the wire of the transfer window though it is highly unlikely he will match his spending on Elmander. The Swede was much heralded in the French league for his efforts at strugglers Toulouse. However, Bolton fans will have seen little indication of his talent at Euro 2008 where he lost his place to the Sinatra-esque return of Henrik Larsson and was given scant place to shine from the subs' bench. His lone starting role came as an auxiliary midfielder.

Another departure, as expected, was El Hadji Diouf ,especially after Diouf himself announced that the home match with Sunderland would be his last as a Bolton player. More of a surprise was his choice of those opponents as his eventual destination when he had seemed short of suitors. Diouf's ability will be missed by his old club, if not the bad attitude he too often displayed.

To think that Bolton qualified for the 2007/8 UEFA Cup is to realise how low expectations have become at the Reebok since Allardyce departed the scene. Megson, far less a technocrat than his predecessor, will be expecting a long, hard season in which mid-table is the optimum target.

Despite his success in hauling Bolton out of the mire, Megson has to set out his stall as a long-term appointment. And win over those fans who remain suspicious of his presence.

That may be his toughest assignment in a season which few could predict will be anything but easy for Bolton. Again, they may have to rely on the poor quality of their rivals to survive.


  • Any thoughts on this article? Feel free to email John Brewin

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