The Bolton manager had been casting nervous glances over his shoulder after being subjected to venomous fans’ abuse in his previous two games, but a much-needed win yesterday — inspired by the excellent Ricardo Gardner — has bought him crucial breathing space.
Gardner, 30, replaced the injured Mustapha Riga shortly before half-time and applied the finishing touch to a wicked low cross from Gretar Steinsson in the 77th minute.
It was the Trotters’ first goal for five hours and 50 minutes and Gardner then turned provider by crossing for Ireland defender Richard Dunne to put through his own net with two minutes remaining.
Victory gave Bolton’s faltering campaign a much-needed adrenaline shot, lifting them out of the relegation zone and handing them a first home win since the opening day of the season.
“The fans react to what they see so they weren’t going to boo tonight,” Megson said. “They’ve seen a team really having a go and to be fair, they see that all the time.
“As I’ve said before, if they’re going to abuse anybody, it’s better that I get it. They need to support the team and the support in the second half, when we really had that momentum, was as good as you’re going to hear.
“Tonight we’ve not been lucky – we’ve played really well and we certainly deserved the win.”
Megson was also quick to acknowledge the contribution of Gardner. “Bibi (Gardner) is one of the nicest people that you’ll ever meet and the only reason he’s not been in the side is that Matty Taylor’s set-pieces are very good and he gives us a little bit more of a goal threat,” he said. “Bibi came on today and we put Matty on to the other side, and Bibi has scored the first goal and made the second.
“He wasn’t out of the team through any other reason than we need to score goals but he’s now come in and done that. I’m really pleased.”
Bolton had been grateful to still be level deep into the second half, with Jussi Jaaskelainen making a string of fine saves, but they forged ahead when Gardner arrived to greet Steinsson’s low right-wing cross and fire home left-footed off the underside of the crossbar. He then whipped in a vicious low delivery ball Dunne contrived to fire into his own net past City goalkeeper Joe Hart.
City, for their part, offered precious little and Mark Hughes’ men have now won just once in six league games and remain as inconsistent as ever.
“We didn’t show enough quality on the ball and Bolton, in fairness, really played well and made it difficult for us to play our normal game,” Hughes said.
“We were guilty of playing too many long balls into players who were marked and Bolton capitalised on that.
“In the end, we’ve allowed balls into our box and paid the price.”
Jaaskelainen 7, Steinsson 6, Cahill 6, A O’Brien 6, Samuel 6, Riga 5 (Gardner 43, 7), McCann 6, Nolan 7, Muamba, 4, Taylor 5, Davies 6.
Subs Not Used: Al Habsi, Hunt, Smolarek, Helguson, Shittu, Basham.
Hart 6, Zabaleta 6, Dunne 5, Ben-Haim 6, Richards 6, Wright-Phillips 5, Kompany 4, Ireland 6, Elano 5 (Hamann 69, 5), Evans 4 (Sturridge 69, 5), Robinho 4.
Subs Not Used: Schmeichel, Onuoha, Garrido, Fernandes, Caicedo.
Mike Riley (Yorkshire) 7: Sound display. Bolton’s first goal was marginal but the officials were right not to rule it offside.
** Not a classic but Bolton were grateful for small mercies. A win has bought Gary Megson time, if nothing else.