Bolton Wanderers 0 Sheffield United 1: Anelka's day off stirs suspicions of exit

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The Independent Online

If you were Gary Megson then you too would resent the constant questioning regarding the future of Nicolas Anelka.

The Frenchman's goals have both kept Bolton Wanderers clear of the relegation zone in the Premier League and reminded the likes of Chelsea of his quality and availability. Strikers of his class who are not cup-tied are few and far between at this time of the year and the appeal of such a move for both parties is obvious.

The only losers would be Bolton and their manager Megson, whose season could easily unravel in his absence. Should Anelka tell them he wants a move then there is little option other than to maximise the transfer fee. But even then, what are the chances of finding a replacement of comparable standing?

Anelka was only one of several first-team regulars who sat out Saturday's FA Cup third-round exit at the hands of Sheffield United. But while it was easy to accept that the others were merely rested, the lingering suspicion was that more could be read into the striker's omission.

Megson knew the questions were coming but that did not make them any easier to field. More than anyone, he would have been aware just how poor and toothless Bolton were in Anelka's absence. The manager denied his departure was anything more than "a possibility", blaming media speculation.

"There has been no official approach from anyone for Nic," he said. "We made a number of changes and the other players came into the same category as him."

He was also annoyed that several squad players, many of whom have been complaining about their lack of opportunities, failed to impress.

"I think the players today proved that we have been picking the right team after all," he said. "A few of them played as though they think there will be further opportunities but there might not be."

All of which should take nothing away from the achievement of Sheffield United. Their excellent away support without whom the total attendance would have been little more than 10,000 reflected that at least one team was desperate to progress. Shortly before half-time, the Australian international, David Carney, ran on to Stephen Quinn's through-ball to score his first goal in United colours following his summer move.

"His agent sent us a DVD and at the time he was keeping Harry Kewell out of the Australian team," said Bryan Robson, the Sheffield United manager, for whom this win came as a relief following four straight defeats in the Championship over the Christmas period. "He's a decent player and he takes the ball well and works very hard. We need our wide players to start contributing some goals and take the pressure off James Beattie [who is out injured] and David did that very well today."

One of these sides, then, is learning to cope in the absence of their star striker. How Bolton and Megson will fare should Anelka depart is another matter altogether.

Goal: Carney (42) 0-1.

Bolton (4-3-3): Al Habsi; Hunt, A O'Brien (Meite, 78), Michalik, Cid; Guthrie, J O'Brien, Cohen; Stelios, Braaten, Diouf (Wilhelmsson, 65). Substitutes not used: Bogdan (gk), Andranik, Dzemaili.

Sheffield United (4-5-1): Kenny; Geary (Gillespie, 75), Bromby, Kilgallon, Armstrong; Carney, Montgomery, Hendrie (Sharp, 73) , Quinn, Stead; Shelton (Hulse, 73). Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk) Lucketti.

Referee: P Walton (Northants).

Booked: Bolton Cohen, Cid, Diouf. Sheffield Stead.

Man of the match: Montgomery.

Attendance: 15,286.

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