Elmander ordered to toughen up

Manager tells Bolton's misfiring record signing to improve or risk fans' wrath
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The Independent Football

The Bolton Wanderers manager Gary Megson has given his mis-firing striker Johan Elmander a few home truths and told the Swede it is about time he got used to the physical side of English football.

Last summer's £10m signing has not scored in 21 matches, with his last goal coming against Aston Villa on 13 December. His performances have not impressed supporters and he has become a target for fans who expect much more from the club's record signing. Even Megson had to spell it out to the player at half-time of Tuesday night's 1-0 Carling Cup second-round victory at Tranmere.

Having played as a lone front man for much of his Bolton career Elmander was given some support midway through the first half when Kevin Davies was pushed up alongside him in a 4-4-2 formation but it took until after the interval for the Swede to have an effort on goal.

"Johan and myself are intrinsically linked and I've told him that," said Megson. "At half-time last night there were a few strong words and he has to step up to the plate but he looked much more like it yesterday. He got hold of it and must have had three or four opportunities at goal – although I must say he is not the luckiest player in the world.

"His header from six yards, the goalkeeper just threw his arm up in the air and it went over and his shot went around the post but he has to keep plugging away. He gets criticism because of the amount of money he costs and the way he plays when he sometimes looks a bit mardy but he has got to get over that.

"He works his socks off, he has a great deal of pace and ability but he has got to get stronger. He has to be strong enough mentally and physically to get through this run that he is in."

After two successive 1-0 Premier League defeats, Tuesday night's win was a welcome confidence boost for the squad. But Megson knows there is plenty of work to be done, and he expects to see an improvement from Elmander.

"You've got to get the results otherwise you can talk till the cows come home about how things are improving," added the Wanderers manager. "We have played three games so far and Mark Davies is the only player to score. But I know Johan has got a decent goalscoring record and a fantastic amount of ability. He's decent in the air without being Kevin Davies, has pace and he's 6ft 2in and built really strongly so I think he has all the prerequisites to do it in England. He has to accept there is physical contact in this country and he has got to deal with it."

Bolton face an entirely different task on Saturday for the visit of Liverpool, whose defeat to Aston Villa on Monday was their second in three matches. "I've seen Rafa's comments that they have to go to Bolton and win so we're up against it," admitted Megson. "Everyone will have them down as favourites – and quite rightly so when they have spent that amount of money and got those players – so they have to push on and get a result against us.

"We are in an entirely opposite position to the one we were in at Tranmere, we have got to go and give it our best shot against them."

Liverpool midfielder Yossi Benayoun believes the competition in the league is tougher than ever. While the Israel international is frustrated at his side losing two of their opening three games, he insists they can mount a challenge as the other top teams will drop points. He said: "I feel the big four will lose more points than expected as other teams are now stronger and Villa have proved they can beat anyone. I am sure Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal will have tough games against the likes of Villa, Manchester City and Tottenham. Hopefully, at the end of the season we will still be there.

"We need to try and improve, and quickly, starting on Saturday against Bolton. To lose two out of three is unusual for us. We lost only twice through the whole of the last Premier League season, and we have to show that we are still a strong team. We need to recover from this and work hard game by game to play better."