Megson saves stars for league survival fight
Thursday 13 March 2008
The Bolton manager, Gary Megson, yesterday made no apologies for heading out to Lisbon with a second-string side. With Premier League survival the No 1 priority for Megson, the Wanderers squad who travelled for the second leg of the last-16 Uefa Cup tie were shorn of a number of leading players.
The captain Kevin Nolan and Jussi Jaaskelainen missed last week's 1-1 first-leg draw at the Reebok Stadium with back injuries and were among those who did not travel.
They were joined by Kevin Davies, Matt Taylor, Andy O'Brien, Ivan Campo, El Hadji Diouf and Ricardo Gardner, while Gavin McCann is suspended and Tamir Cohen, Grzegorz Rasiak and Gretar Steinsson are ineligible.
Megson is far more concerned about Sunday's relegation showdown at Wigan on a quagmire of a JJB Stadium pitch than the opportunity of making further progress in Europe. That may disappoint the loyal fans who have paid to see Bolton in Lisbon, but it will be tempered by understanding given that the team are now back in the bottom three.
"The focus has to be on this Sunday's game. I have to think that way," insisted Megson. "If we were in the top half of the table, then we would go out all guns blazing to try and win this competition. We are still trying to do that, of course, but we're in a precarious position.
"We've now got 10 games to try to preserve our Premier League status, which has been our intention all along. There's a lot to play for, with 30 points up for grabs, and when we play well we are capable of beating anyone."
Bolton have already proved that this season, notably beating Red Star Belgrade 1-0 away with a team similar to the one who will take to the pitch at the Estadio Jose Alvalade.
They have also defied the odds in gaining draws at Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid with weakened teams, and there is no reason to believe they cannot do so again.
"We are capable of going there and scoring," added Megson, whose side have to find the net to keep their hopes of progress alive. "Although Lisbon are a quality side and we've a difficult hurdle to overcome in this second leg, we've faced quite a few difficult hurdles this season.
"When we faced Bayern Munich we did so without 10 injured players, yet still drew 2-2. When we went to Belgrade we beat them 1-0, and on the following Sunday [ironically at home to Wigan] I made 10 changes and we won 4-1."
Although a trip to Lisbon is one Bolton could arguably do without in light of the clash with the Latics, Megson is adamant the Uefa Cup has not become an unwanted distraction.
"I'm not saying it's that, but it's something we have to contend with," added Megson. "It's only a distraction because we haven't enough points in the Premier League to be able to focus entirely on the Uefa Cup, which is a shame, but that is where we are."
Sporting Lisbon coach Paulo Bento is not expecting Bolton to pose any new problems when the two sides meet. Bento is now under pressure to see his side through in the wake of a 2-0 defeat in the Portuguese League at Vitoria Guimaraes on Sunday.
Although Sporting are in the final of one domestic cup competition and the semi-final of another, they are an uncomfortable 20 points behind league leaders Porto, and six behind second-placed Benfica.
It means they are in danger of missing out on a place in next season's Champions League, leaving Bento with only a trio of cups to play for, the most important of which is the Uefa Cup.
Bento, though, is convinced Sporting will be able to ease their way past what will be a much-changed Bolton team. "The scoreline is good, but we have to respect the opposition and take into account if they score first we have to score two goals," assessed Bento. "So we certainly won't play for a goalless draw. We will play our own game because we know what we want.
"As for Bolton, I don't think they will play any differently. I believe they will play the same style of football. In the first leg Bolton caused us a lot of problems due to the type of football they play, which is typical British football.
"We have to give them credit because they are a physical side and we were unable to play like we had hoped. We were a bit anxious and we allowed Bolton to play. We didn't do as I expected by keeping possession of the ball.
"But in the second half we had a lot more possession and were able to score. We also defended well and were more aggressive.
"For this second leg I expect Bolton will probably wait for us to make a mistake, so we have to stop them playing at corners and free-kicks."
It was Montenegro international Simon Vukcevic's fine second-half strike that ensures Sporting start as favourites. Vukcevic, however, knows Sporting cannot afford to start as sloppily as they did in Bolton.
"After our first-half performance it was a good result, but in England it's normal to face a tough defence," said Vukcevic.
"It was very difficult and we didn't have many opportunities, but in the second half we were a much-improved side. It's still not going to be easy here because Bolton are a very good team."
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