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Firefighter Megson burnt by Bolton

The manager of relegation-threatened team is sacked. It is not, on the face of it, a huge shock. Given the scale of his unpopularity, it scarcely comes as a huge surprise that Gary Megson has become the third Premier League boss to be dismissed this season. But it may be an injustice. Never the most charismatic or quotable, he is a skilled fire-fighter whose achievements went unacknowledged.

• Megson sacked by Bolton

In one respect, Megson leaves Bolton in exactly the same position he found them: in the relegation zone. In another, his legacy is vastly better than his inheritance. When Megson arrived, Bolton had five points from 10 games. Only a Derby County side that subsequently became the worst in Premier League history lay beneath them.

While he departs with Bolton in 18th place in the table, they are one point from safety and have two games in hand on most of their immediate opponents. It is scarcely an irreparable situation. Indeed, Bolton were in a far more precarious position in April 2008 when, with 26 points from 33 games, demotion loomed. If Fulham's is remembered as the great escape that season, Bolton's was no less remarkable. The last five games brought 11 points.

That is not an irrelevance now. Megson has displayed a capacity to rally Bolton when others have written them off, to produce results in unlikely circumstances. In short, he may have thrived now.

Not that many regulars at the Reebok Stadium are likely to share that view. One caller to a phone-in suggested fans would be dancing in the streets of Bolton at the news (they aren't; it's too cold and many of the pavements are distinctly slippery), but Megson's removal ranks as the most popular decision chairman Phil Gartside has taken since Sam Allardyce's appointment.

It is all subsequent Wanderers managers' misfortune to be compared with Allardyce. After a misguided attempt to introduce a passing game, Sammy Lee came up short. It is often ignored, however, that the choice of Megson was based precisely on his ability to work with Allardyce's players. While Bolton's halcyon days contained some wonderful football, courtesy of Jay-Jay Okocha, Fernando Hierro and Youri Djorkaeff, Wanderers were increasingly attritional even before Allardyce left.

They were direct and competitive; Megson was chosen because those were the characteristics of his former teams. His is an abrasive approach; his players were little more progressive on the pitch. But lacking the wherewithal to overhaul the squad, what was the alternative?

True, as his critics say, Megson spent £40 million. It is a selective interpretation of the figures, though, because he recouped two-thirds of it, principally by selling players who wanted to leave. Nicolas Anelka, the most lucrative of all, appeared restless during Lee's ill-fated spell at the helm.

Some of Megson's recruits have surpassed expectations. Matt Taylor played a pivotal part in Bolton's survival in each of the past two seasons; were Gary Cahill to leave now, Wanderers could expect a healthy profit; Ivan Klasnic appears an accomplished goalscorer and Chung-Yong Lee has displayed promise.

On the debit side, Sam Ricketts and Zat Knight, two of the less inspired additions, are reasons why Bolton are the only side in the division without a clean sheet. And, most damningly of all, there is Johan Elmander: successor to Anelka and Megson's biggest buy, but utterly incapable of providing the goals required. Megson acknowledged earlier in the season that his fate may depend upon the Swede. Elmander proved to be an inadequate ally.

Moreover, while few managers can surpass Allardyce's record at the Reebok - a net spend of around £1.5 million during an eight-year spell when they progressed from the Championship into Europe - some of Megson's outlay was necessary. He took over an ageing squad, requiring renewal and younger legs to take over from Stelios, Gary Speed and Ivan Campo.

But they, along with Okocha, Hierro, Anelka and Djorkaeff, elevated expectations, arguably to an unreasonable level. The precipitous declines endured by Charlton, Southampton and Leeds in recent years seemed to have gone unnoticed in Bolton. The style of play has been unappealing, but they have no divine right to top-quality, top-flight football. Staying up equated to success, but few felt that.

Factor in Megson's personal popularity ratings - initially low and now still smaller - and the negativity became a feature of life at the Reebok Stadium. The boos became a constant, the banners a magnet to the cameras.

Megson, briefly christened "the ginger Mourinho" but long regarded as the taller Sammy Lee, may not be out of work for long. Sheffield-based and a former Sheffield Wednesday player, the vacancy at Hillsborough may have his name on it.

But if there is an air of jubilation at the Reebok Stadium when Bolton host Lincoln on Saturday, it will be a recognition that Gartside has bowed to public pressure and finally given the crowd what they wanted. Just 1.7% of Bolton fans supported the choice of Megson in the infamous poll conducted by a local newspaper in October 2007. Close to 100% backed his dismissal. But if Bolton go down the message will be clear: be careful what you wish for.


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