Bolton keep afloat by making virtue of vices under Megson
Tottenham Hotspur 1 Bolton Wanderers 1
Gary Megson's managerial career has turned into a permanent rage against the dying of the light. Relegation battles are his vocation and, having previously failed to avoid the drop with Norwich City, West Bromwich Albion and Nottingham Forest, he seems to be having more success with Bolton Wanderers.
The 1-1 draw at Spurs on Saturday was a triumph of effort, long balls, prodigious enthusiasm, and sheer good luck. Tottenham's failure to score more than once from 26 attempts on goal was, indirectly, a vindication of Megson's style.
More significantly, after picking up seven points from nine, it keeps Bolton's destiny in their own hands for the final two matches of the season - against Sunderland and Chelsea.
Still, the beauty of Megson is that there is no beauty at all. Perceived as the bête noire of the artist, a man not given to aesthetics and certainly never to be confused with Arsène Wenger, Megson is only interested in the points that will keep his team in the Premier League. The tactic of expediency has become the tactic of choice.
"We've gone back to basics and we're getting the results we deserve," Kevin Nolan, the Bolton midfield player, said. "I quite like the fact that everyone wants us to go down because it makes it easier for us to put two fingers up to them when we stay up. What do people want? For us to come to White Hart Lane, open up, and lose 4-0?"
And yet Bolton did keep it tight and still could have lost 4-0. It was only because of wayward finishing by Dimitar Berbatov, fine saves by Ali Al-Habsi to deny Robbie Keane, Aaron Lennon, and Steed Malbranque, and a goalline clearance by Danny Guthrie to deny Darren Bent that Tottenham failed to win.
Surprising, then, that it was Bolton who took the lead in the first 24 seconds of the second half; surprising, too, that the goal involved two half-time substitutes. The move began with El Hadji Diouf and ended with Stelios Giannakopoulos scrambling the ball home from close range. "First touch of the match, last touch, it doesn't matter to me," Stelios said. "We continue to live in hope and we continue to fight for our lives. We are lucky to take the point from this match."
But it would have been stretching incredulity to expect a victory for Bolton, so when Malbranque equal-ised in the 52nd minute - a neat finish from six yards after a cross by Keane - it seemed to fall into a natural order. The expected win did not come, however, and that is now four successive 1-1 draws for Tottenham and a feeling that motivation has been a problem for a month or so. "It's draw, draw, draw, draw but we're better than that," Jermaine Jenas, their midfielder said.
Motivation has never been a problem for Bolton, hence the recent results, and hence the optimism emanating from their dressing room. "I am sure next season the Premier League will be seeing horrible old Bolton again," Nolan said, with an endearing smile and a wink of the right eye.
Bolton's plan now, in the 180 minutes that remain of their season, is to make a virtue of their vices.
Goals: Giannakopoulos (46) 0-1; Malbranque (52) 1-1.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Cerny; Hutton (Huddlestone, h-t), Dawson (Bent, 53), Woodgate, Gilberto; Zokora, Lennon, Jenas, Malbranque (O'Hara, 77); Berbatov, Keane. Substitutes not used: Robinson (gk), Tainio.
Bolton Wanderers (4-5-1): Al-Habsi; A O'Brien, Cahill, Steinsson, Samuel; Nolan, Campo (Giannakopoulos, h-t), McCann, J O'Brien (Guthrie, 20), Taylor; Rasiak (Diouf, h-t). Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Fojut.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).
Booked: Tottenham Zokora; Bolton Wanderers Campo, Nolan, Samuel.
Man of the match: Keane.