By Chris Harris
He wasn't the dream candidate when he got the job - and he still has his doubters among the Bolton crowd - but Gary Megson is delivering the goods at the Reebok Stadium.
Having overseen a Houdini-like escape from the drop zone at the end of last season, Megson has guided Wanderers to the relative safety of mid-table this time around.
It could all go horribly wrong, of course - only five points separate the bottom 10 teams in the Premier League - but Megson deserves credit for keeping Bolton's heads above water on a shoestring budget.
Wanderers travel to Emirates Stadium this weekend quietly confident of taking points off a team they traditionally cause problems for. And if Bolton take all three, even Megson's loudest critics may revise their opinions.
We spoke to Marc Iles of the Bolton Evening News ahead of Saturday's game. Read on for his 'half-term report' on Wanderers, Megson's popularity, his January transfer targets and the tactics which have worked so well against Arsenal.
THE STORY SO FAR
"It has been peaks and troughs to be honest. They struggled initially in the season but had a great November and Gary Megson won manager of the month. They won four out of five and because it is so tight at that end of the table at the minute, as soon as you get on a decent run, you can make it to mid-table. At the moment they are struggling a little bit, they have lost a few on the bounce now, so they will travel to Emirates Stadium needing a win.
"Bolton have won four times on the road - the same as Manchester United - and I think that's because their style of football lends itself a little bit to playing away from home. The impetus is usually on the home side to come forward and, let’s face it, the way Megson sets his sides up, they are bound to be difficult to break down. His tactics do lend themselves to good away form and they come under a bit of pressure from the home supporters this season which doesn’t help and they just seem happier playing away from the Reebok."
THE MAN IN CHARGE
"I think Gary Megson deserves a lot more credit, certainly from his own supporters. He was never a popular choice when he took over from Sammy Lee - he admits that himself. He came in here to do a job, which was to save the club from relegation, and he did that. He never sought the limelight or the headlines and because of that there are always people queuing up to have a go at him. Even from his own fans he has faced some terrible criticism this season. I think if you look at it statistically in the cold light of day he has done a great job with the resources he has been given here. He deserves a little bit more from his own club and from the footballing and media world in general."
THE ONES TO WATCH
"It is the usual performers really; Kevin Davies has had a good season and has already scored more goals this season than he did in the whole of last term. Gretar Steinsson has been a brilliant signing since he came in last January, he is one of the players who really helped to stabilise the club. Centre half Gary Cahill has really been outstanding. People talk about him possibly being a future England international. Obviously there are your old stagers as well, Jussi Jaaskelainen and such, who have been playing well for years for Wanderers."
"I think Megson is certainly after a centre half, that has gone on record. He has looked at a few different people, including Calum Davenport we understand. He certainly wants more goals from midfield so he is looking for a midfielder with a bit of creativity and a bit of something special. He has got Denilson on trial at the minute which has got tongues wagging in this neck of the woods but whether he is the same player who won the World Cup is a different matter.
"It is the same old problem with Bolton though - they don’t score many goals. Perhaps a striker is on his list as well. Megson readily acknowledges that he needs three or four new players in this window to ensure they don’t struggle later on in the season."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"Why have Arsenal had problems with Bolton? It is chalk and cheese isn’t it? We have just finished speaking to Gary [Megson] on the subject and he can’t quite put his finger on why Bolton have always caused Arsenal problems but they just seem to. They seem to rub them up the wrong way and the two styles of football are completely different. I think that Arsenal, on the day, and if they get the game right, shouldn’t have a problem really. They got the game right for about 25 minutes at the Reebok earlier in the season and played football as good as any I have seen all season. If they can do that on home soil on Saturday then Wanderers could well struggle. But you always hope that you might catch Arsenal on an off day, get in their faces, and anything can happen."
"Anything from Bolton is going to be defensive going to Emirates Stadium. I think Megson prefers to play a five-man midfield to stay solid and have two midfielders protecting the back four, Fabrice Muamba being one of them. He is very limited with what he can do at the minute and I think he only has 15 fit first-team players to pick from. I think it is pretty much 'as you were' for the whole of the season. The five-man midfield has worked for them, especially away from home, with Johan Elmander up front. He is a willing runner who looks like he has a decent eye for goal as well.
"Cahill is 50:50 at the minute we understand. He has a bruised hip which kept him out of last week’s defeat at Sunderland in the FA Cup. Joey O’Brien is out with a hamstring injury, Tamir Cohen is out with a thigh injury and Kevin Nolan and Steinsson are both suspended. From a pretty thin squad already Megson hasn’t got many choices to make to be honest."Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 8 Jan 2009