Megson wins battle of hearts and minds

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The Independent Football

Gary Megson could be forgiven for believing that the shouts of "Ginger Mourinho" would not be going up at any ground where he was present for a considerable time to come. Few Premier League managers have arrived at a club to quite such opprobrium as Megson encountered when he alighted at Bolton Wanderers five weeks ago and the affectionate chant coined for him at Leicester City must have seemed a universe away.

But Megson has changed a few minds at the Reebok Stadium, where fans whom Megson describes as some of the most intelligent in the game have now pinched Leicester's song. The prospect of facing Manchester United and Liverpool in consecutive weekends seemed miserable a month ago but Megson and his new faithful have high hopes after the improbable 1-0 victory over the champions last weekend.

Of course, it has been that kind of year for Megson, who was running training sessions for his old friend Tony Pulis at Stoke when Milan Mandaric came calling with the Leicester job. However, it is hard to discern quite how this rollercoaster has affected him, deep down. "I'm not one of those managers who thinks about how I look all the time," he says, when asked how much his reception at Bolton hurt. "It's not about being popular. It's what you do. I've not got any feelings. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Megson then pursues a train of thought about how things were when in May 2004 he took West Bromwich straight back up to the top flight. It seems to suggest that approval and the word hardly defines quite how the Black Country felt about back then does mean something to him. But he soon snaps out of it. "It's not a popularity contest," he reasserts.

Megson has succeeded by reminding Wanderers of an old priority: stopping other teams. The simplicity of his creed might border on the obvious but it is one which, to the frustration of the senior players, Bolton simply forgot when Sam Allardyce left in April. "When you've not got the ball you want to get it back again and when you've got it you want to score that's us," says Megson. "You want to win games as nicely as we can but above all we want to win."

Bolton's recovery and it is no more than that: the club remain one point out of the relegation zone and Megson was distressed about the display in the 1-1 draw with Aris Salonika in the Uefa Cup on Thursday is about more than toughness. Megson has also demonstrated the man-management touch which Allardyce's successor, Sammy Lee, was so clearly lacking when he dropped players like Kevin Nolan and Ivan Campo. Megson sat the players in the dressing room and asked for their own opinions on the slide before disclosing some of his own.

He also wants to build on Bolton's appeal. "When we go about looking for players we have found there's a lot of good feeling towards the club," Megson says. "Players realise it's a great stadium. We don't have one of the biggest clubs in the world but we do have one of the most intelligent crowds and we go as far as we can financially."

He is not willing to discuss the future of Nicolas Anelka there is a real sense around the Reebok that he will be gone next month but the French forward's display when coming on against Aris showed how badly he will be needed against one of his former sides at Anfield tomorrow. Bolton will be without the suspended Kevin Nolan and Nicky Hunt, while on-loan Liverpool midfielder Danny Guthrie has been refused permission to play.

Not even the most optimistic Bolton fan could have predicted that Liverpool, of these two clubs, would in relative crisis this weekend. But Megson is characteristically downbeat. "People have asked me if it is a good time to be going to Liverpool," he said. "But it's been difficult to go there for the last 40 years."