Sitting comfortably in mid-table, after two wins and clean sheets in a row, you’d think Bolton fans would be fairly content with their team’s form, and their manager Gary Megson.
After all, Megson kept Bolton up in remarkable circumstances last year, after Sammy Lee’s disastarious tenure in charge. And there was even a decent UEFA Cup run to boot, with memorable results against the likes of Bayern Munich and Red Star Belgrade something to savour.
Yet there are still rumblings of discontent from the Wanderers faithful. The football is too negative, apparantly, with Bolton more concerned about keeping a clean sheet than actually going and scoring at the other end.
But there lies the problem. Because football, first and foremost, is a results business. There’s just too much money involved for teams to go out and attack these days. The risk is simply too much, with the money in the Premiership so vital, especially for teams like Bolton. Relegation would be disastarous. A healthy dose of realism is required, and Megson realises this.
Taking a step back to last season, and after the departure of Sam Allardyce, Bolton decided to change things. Sammy Lee attempted to get Wanderers playing a more expansive brand of football after the direct style of Allardyce, but ultimately failed, with only five points from their opening ten games a poor return. The experiment went wrong, and could so easily have cost Bolton their Premiership status.
So Gartside went back to basics, and went back to what he knew. Lee was given the boot after a matter of months, and to the dismay of many, Megson was appointed. Fans at the Reebok Stadium were outraged, so much so that only 1.7 per cent of fans were in favour of his appointment, according to a website poll.
Talk about starting on the wrong foot.
Then again, this is nothing new for Megson. He’s never been a popular manager, with his pragmatic style of play never endearing him to fans, who prefer to see attractive, attacking football. And who doesnt? But pretty football doesnt get you out of a relegation battle, does it? It’s about rolling your sleeves up, working hard, and getting the basics right.
So Megson got to work, and got Bolton doing the basics properly again. Of course, it took time, but slowly but surely, the Trotters began to get results. They were hard working, organised, defensively sound, and strong from set-pieces. The old Bolton Wanderers were back, doing what they did best, playing to their strengths, and doing what they needed to do to stay up. It wasnt about winning popularity contests, it was about achieving results, however way they could.
What’s more, the loss of influential striker Nicolas Anelka in January was seen to be the last straw by many, with the goals supply surely drying up. He was seen as the only bit of genuine quality in an otherwise mediocre side. Without Anelka, there were no goals, and seemingly no hope.
But Megson didn’t panic, and strenghened elsewhere in the squad. Matt Taylor, Gary Cahill, and Gretar Steinsson were all drafted in, amongst others. Once again, they weren’t signings to get the fans pulses racing, but they were hard working and committed players who would give their all for the cause. And the new signings certainly had the desired effect, as the likes of Cahill and Taylor all played their part in keeping Bolton in the Premiership.
And so Bolton did stay up, in what was quite frankly a remarkable achievement. At one stage, Megson’s side looked dead and buried, and some journalists had wrote them off completely, condemning the team to relegation. But in the end, we were all proved wrong, as The Trotters pulled off what was in my eyes one of the greatest turnarounds in recent history.
There was even the added bonus of a profitable run in the UEFA Cup, though the competition eventually proved to be too much of a distraction, as Megson put the club’s domestic campaign first. Once again, Megson was criticised for not giving the competition enough respect, but in the end his decision proved to be vindicated.
Megson was hired to save the team from relegation, nothing more, nothing less. A European adventure just wasn’t in the job description.
Moving onto this season, and it’s been more of the same from Bolton and Megson, and the fans don’t like it. Sure, it’s been an inconsistent start, and results havent always been good. And suprise suprise, the style of play hasn’t changed.
But given the way Megson turned things round last season, you’d think Bolton fans would be more patient towards the man who kept them up against the odds last season.
The abuse that Megson suffered at the hands of his own fans away at Tottenham was nothing short of ridiculous, and in my opinion completely undeserved.
Then again, football fans have notoriously short memories, don’t they? Megson out? Be careful what you wish for…