WHEN fate paired Wanderers with Cardiff City in the cup, Kevin McNaughton had no inkling that he would return to the Reebok with Premier League experience.

Despite racking up seven years’ service with the Bluebirds, the full-back was not optimistic that his future lay in South Wales. In fact, the smart money was on a quick return to Bolton, where he had been such a steadying influence on a side who were at that point showing signs of improvement.

But what a difference a month makes.

After Malky Mackay was sacked, McNaughton was given a surprise chance by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and has now faced Arsenal, Newcastle United and Manchester City in what is now looking like a comeback of Rocky proportions.

A loan to Wanderers may yet materialise as Cardiff’s injury problems subside but the easy-going Scot is learning to let nature run its course.

“When I watched the draw I said to my wife ‘I bet it’s Bolton’ so it’ll be strange going back,” he said. “When I went out on loan I thought I’d played my last game for Cardiff.

“On the day I came back I was still trying to get back up to Bolton on loan.

“I drove home, Malky Mackay lost his job, and a week later I found myself starting a game.

“It’s odd to think I could have ended up playing against Cardiff, and mentally a few weeks ago, I thought I’d be moving on.

“But it has all changed. Fingers crossed I can be part of things in Cardiff but it’s a transition stage.”

McNaughton still keeps in touch with some of the Bolton camp and will undoubtedly be welcomed back with open arms by the supporters at the Reebok this afternoon.

He is also able to offer a unique perspective on Wanderers’ relative strengths and weaknesses – and why they have vastly underachieved since his departure.

“Bolton are a counter-attacking side and play their best football on the back foot,” he said. “It’s something we’ll have to be aware of.

“They have that quality, players with Premier League experience, but they have struggled for numbers at the back, which is not ideal.

“That’s their main problem – they only had four defenders when I left.

“The style of play in the Premier League and the Championship is so different, the pace and the tempo. It’s 100 miles per hour down there and it’s so physical – and that’s where Bolton struggle. They have a lot of quality – and they are good enough to do better in the league too.”

One man who McNaughton could be keeping tabs on this afternoon is David Ngog – potentially playing his last game for Wanderers before moving to Swansea.

McNaughton can also see chinks in the Frenchman’s armour but believes he could be better suited to top-flight football.

“He is something special in training but he’s sporadic and doesn’t do it enough over 90 minutes,” he said. “That’s where his problem is. He is one of the best trainers I have seen but needs to find a position which brings the best out of him and suits him.

“Maybe a change of scenery will help him.”