Gary Megson is vowing to fight on as Sheffield Wednesday boss and mounting a forthright defence of his record as he braves rumours that his job could be on the line this weekend.
Chairman Milan Mandaric was yesterday backing moves for a loan forward, believed to be from the Premiership, on top of Michail Antonio’s arrival as an emergency replacement for the stricken Jermaine Johnson.
Yet Megson’s future has become the focal point of Sunday’s Hillsborough derby, a game that could add another twist to the promotion race - or a last twist of the knife for Wednesday’s fan-manager.
After inheriting a failed signing spree in last season’s January window, Megson calculates he has spent little more than £400,000 in piecing together a promotion push that remains very much alive despite a run of three successive defeats.
“I’ll keep plugging away until anyone tells me anything different,” Megson told the Telegraph in the face of rampant rumours this week that his reign was about to end.
“From the figures I read, about £1.5m was spent before I arrived. I’ve spent £425,000 and got the team up to third place. The gates are up as well and there’s not been as much optimism among Wednesdayites for quite a few years.
“Whatever happens to me is only really of interest to me. I’ll carry on doing my best wherever I’m working and right now that’s at my club, Sheffield Wednesday.”
Megson won’t walk away and is trying to divorce his own future from Sunday’s showdown with Sheffield United, who have opened a five-point gap in second place with two games in hand.
That is not yet unsurmountable - if the Owls win the big one. So could it be a turning point for both manager and club?
“That doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s a derby, regardless of any consequences. A huge game in a huge football city.”
Neither does he dread the outcome. Megson added: “It’s not about fear. You go into management knowing this (the uncertainty of the job). I came here knowing this.
“Somebody told me that I was Milan’s third longest serving manager after I completed 12 months here. I was offered another job (believed to be Ipswich) not long before coming here. I’ve had promotions (two with West Brom) and kept teams in the Premiership (Bolton).”
Rumours of Megson’s impending demise were so strong on Monday that a major television outfit rerouted its outside broadcast truck to the Owls’ training ground. Mandaric promptly refuted suggestions that his manager had left the club, but a national newspaper followed up by touting Paul Ince for the job and predicting Megson could be out before the weekend.
The fact that Megson was then allowed what could prove to be his last throws of the dice in the transfer market indicated that he would - as the chairman maintained - still be in charge for the big game.
Winger Antonio’s arrival on loan from Reading followed confirmation that Johnson was likely to be out for the rest of the season with ligament damage.
Johnson’s sidelining, on top of the loss of the inspirational Ben Marshall, was a “massive blow” for Megson. “JJ was playing his best football for us as our biggest threat with the ball at his feet,” he said.
The outlook was much different a couple of months ago when Megson first moved for Antonio, a 21-year-old who has had promising loan spells with Southampton, Cheltenham and Colchester besides playing in the second tier. Megson added: “I wanted to bring Michail here at the beginning of December when the plan was to play him on one side with Marshall on the other. But Michail’s partner was having a baby at that time, which put things on hold.”
So will Antonio have the temperament as well as the talent to stand up to a hothouse derby debut? “You just don’t know,” admitted the Owls boss.
“Although Michail has played in the Championship, he hasn’t been on as big a stage as this. Then again neither had Ben Marshall, but he was the best player on the field at Bramall Lane in October. Hopefully Michail can do the same.”
Megson is adamant his side’s moral victory in having the better of that 2-2 draw will count for nothing this weekend. “It won’t make any difference,” he argued. “Derbies are complete one-offs. They are a fantastic testimonial to this city in still being among the biggest games in the country.
“That shows the depth of support from fans is still there even though the clubs have dropped. When I was a kid they were both in the top flight and hopefully they will both be on the up again soon.”
On the team front, Megson is likely to spring a surprise in some quarters by going in without the hero of Bramall Lane, Gary Madine, whose late leveller rescued a point.
Despite remaining top scorer, Madine has been out of sorts and has cut a forlorn figure since his comeback from injury. That leaves Wednesday in need of a potency that has been highlighted in defeats to Exeter, Stevenage and Chesterfield.
But Megson reminded his players of the fine dividing line between success and failure in a team pick-me-up this week. All three reverses were by the odd goal in games that Wednesday more than edged territorially.
Now the manager will hope that Antonio can help step up the supply of ammunition and that a strike force permed from Chris O’Grady, Ryan Lowe, Clinton Morrison - and possibly a new arrival - can start firing.
Mandaric has long been insistent on promotion this season. He remains committed to that challenge and, as the Owls’ saviour, is entitled to call the shots - while being up front from day one that he would step aside if new owners emerged with the right credentials to take the club forward.
In that climate, Wednesday are an attractive proposition and bids for control cannot be ruled out, even in the short term.