Bolton face crucial manager decision

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The Independent Football

If supporter opinion is to play a part, Bolton will approach Mark Hughes to replace the sacked Gary Megson - but as he weighs up a decision that will shape the Trotters' future, owner Eddie Davies knows he must get it right.

After 26 torrid months, Davies and chairman Phil Gartside ditched Megson, a short statement on the club website confirming the manager had been "relieved of his duties" in the wake of his side throwing away a two-goal lead against Hull last night and having to settle for a draw at the Reebok Stadium that keeps Bolton in the relegation zone.

Almost immediately the cry went up from the Bolton faithful for the club to go and get former player Owen Coyle from nearby Burnley, followed almost immediately by hints from Turf Moor that the Scot is not interested.

Second choice it seems is Hughes, dumped by Manchester City just before Christmas in circumstances controversial enough to ensure the reputation he built up at Blackburn has not been damaged.

Yet it is by no means certain the Welshman wants the job, and the same could be said for any number of candidates.

For, in the middle of their ninth consecutive season of Premier League combat, Bolton are in trouble. And, after finally caving in to the weight of support that demanded Megson be sacked, Davies and Gartside will need to keep their nerve to ensure the supporters who are so happy now, do not suffer the same fate as Charlton fans, who demanded the dismissal of Alan Curbishley because of the club's continued failure to qualify for Europe, and promptly saw their club end up in League One.

It is that knowledge that must have weighed as heavily on their minds as the abuse heaped on Megson last night.

Coming from fans who have never taken to the "Ginger Mourinho", it was hardly a surprise. Yet Bolton need to feel as though they can get someone better.

A candidate such as Darren Ferguson sounds very appealing in principle. Out of work following his own dismissal at Peterborough, Ferguson has made an excellent start to life as a manager, despite the burden of following a family tradition laid down by the most decorated boss of all.

But is the halfway point of a season, with relegation threatening financial meltdown, really the time to place your trust in someone so inexperienced?

Paul Jewell seems to be a more plausible candidate after steering Bradford to survival and working wonders at nearby Wigan.

Yet ill-fated spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Derby counter-balance the plusses.

Curbishley and Steve Coppell offer the prospect of a cool head in choppy seas. But they lack the 'wow' factor the Bolton fans demand.

"Having spoken to a number of supporters, the one they all want is Owen Coyle but I don't think Owen would be interested because he's very loyal to his own club," another former player Andy Walker told Sky Sports News.

"If that is the case, I would like them to offer Mark Hughes the job.

"He is a top manager and in such a short space of time, has proved himself. I think there's only one candidate myself."

Megson had long since given up trying to win over the 98.3% of respondents to a local newspaper poll who did not vote for him to replace Sammy Lee.

And his final summary of what proved to be his last game in charge merely illustrated the point.

Asked if he thought that he could not win over the fans Megson replied: "Yes.

"I make the decision (to take off Ivan Klasnic) and it goes down like the Bismarck. Yet I made exactly the same decision against West Ham at 2-1 and we went on to win that one 3-1. No-one says a word.

"I don't understand the reaction at all. Their reaction is one of 'This would happen, that would happen'.

"Everyone has an opinion but mine has consequences, therefore it becomes a decision."

Professionally, Megson has every right to look back on his time at Bolton with satisfaction.

Of the players who have left since, only two - Nicolas Anelka and El-Hadji Diouf - are still performing in the Premier League.

Among the players who left, Stelios and Ivan Campo were particular favourites, which further fuelled resentment against Megson, as did the failure of £10million striker Johan Elmander to live up to star billing.

Yet still Bolton survived as a top flight club and were fancied to do so again this term, despite the margins getting tighter and tighter.

For it is an inescapable fact that small-town clubs such as Bolton have a limited lifespan in the Premier League.

It is one of the reasons why Gartside has been so keen to push the idea of Premier League II, including Celtic and Rangers.

That scheme was rejected, now Davies and Gartside must come up with a better one for their own club, knowing if it goes wrong, the drop could be very steep indeed.