As the man who attracted only 1.7 per cent of the votes in a Bolton Wanderers fans' website poll last week, Gary Megson could have had worse starts.
A deserved point, a climb off the bottom of the table, and an avoidance of significant public disquiet left the Premier League's newest and most unwanted manager satisfied and almost certainly relieved.
It might have been better still, after Nicolas Anelka curled in a magnificent 21st-minute free-kick, but Aston Villa, on whom Megson was already one up following Leicester City's Carling Cup conquest a month ago, equalised with Luke Moore's in-off.
"In the first half we played some really good stuff," Megson said. "We spoke of lacking a bit of confidence, and going at a high tempo. We didn't half put a lot of effort in, and it gives us a bit of optimism to take forward.
"The fans were fantastic – we couldn't have played like we did in the first half without that quality of support."
As long as he did not expect the welcome mat to be rolled out, the Yorkshireman would not have been disappointed by his barely tepid reception from the Reebok's lowest Premier League crowd. The only "Megson For Bolton" chants heard in the build-up were from Leicester fans before his departure there, and press-room wags wasted no time in informing all who would listen that the name on the manager's door was written in chalk.
T here was no PA fanfare or walk-on for the new incumbent. As Stockport County manager, Megson once grabbed the announcer's microphone, strode half the length of the pitch and delivered a stirring address that instantly had a sceptical audience eating out of his hand. Here, on the bigger stage, and in front of the intrusive lenses, he settled for a stroll along the perimeter track to shake his Villa counterpart Martin O'Neill's hand.
Sheepish is not a word often attributed to him, but Megson initially treated his technical area as a small child might regard a first paddle in the sea; a step further each time, while wary that the big wave, of the salted variety, might come at any moment.
The body language became bolder, though, with Bolton's improvements from a sketchy start, in which Shaun Maloney curled a free-kick inches off target. Having talked up both Anelka and the Sam Allardyce era, and recalled the fit-again Frenchman as his only change, Megson saw Villa repeatedly pushed back, with Wilfred Bouma fortuitously escaping a penalty for hand-ball, before Ricardo Gardner convinced no one when falling over in the proximity of Zat Knight's foot in the area.
Then came the pressure-relieving breakthrough. Knight's foul on Kevin Davies enabled Anelka, with only a couple of steps' run-up, to do brilliantly from 25 yards what Wayne Rooney had failed to do from 12 last weekend and beat Villa's stand-in goalkeeper, Stuart Taylor. Megson's celebrations revealed a relief matched in the stand above him, where his chairman, Phil Gartside, savoured the lead with clenched fists. Had Anelka then done better than steer wide from a clear opening he and El Hadji Diouf superbly fashioned, the smiles might have remained.
Villa were awful, until Maloney's unconvincingly saved shot in first-half stoppage time, and O'Neill's double interval substitution. Even so, the 56th-minute equaliser was fortunate.
With Gardner switching off as a throw-in was incorrectly awarded his way, Bolton were caught out as the referee, Martin Atkinson, overruled the decision, and Ashley Young released Gabriel Agbonlahor for a right-wing run and cross-cum-shot that was diverted in by Luke Moore via his chest – the substitute's first League goal of the season.
Megson, chewing gum and, by now, gesticulating for England – and that is not meant to further unsettle the watching Steve McClaren – saw from then on why Bolton are where they are. Gardner and Diouf might have won it for them, but they laboured against out-of-form opponents, who had their manager saying: "We never got to the pitch of it in the first half, and I was pleased to see half-time and make a couple of adjustments. We upped the tempo and I think we deserved something."
Megson insisted he did not hear the unacknowledged brief chanting in his favour after Anelka's seventh goal of the season. He would have heard the loud booing of his withdrawal of Ivan Campo, though, and much work lies ahead.
Goal: Anelka (21) 1-0; Moore (56) 1-1.
Bolton Wanderers (4-3-3): Jaaskelainen; J O'Brien, A O'Brien, Meite, Gardner; Nolan, Campo (Speed, 66), McCann (Guthrie, 71); Davies, Anelka (Samuel, 78), Diouf. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Stelios.
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Taylor; Mellberg, Knight, Laursen, Bouma; Osbourne (Berger, h-t), Petrov, Barry; Young, Agbonlahor, Maloney (Moore, h-t). Substitutes not used: Sorensen (gk), Harewood, Davies.
Booked: Bolton Anelka, Campo.
Referee: M Atkinson (Yorkshire).
Man of the match: Anelka.
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