Boro 2 – 0 Bolton

Middlesbrough Bolton
On target
On target

Britt sucker punch breaks Bolton

Redcar Red reports on the return to winning ways against Bolton…

The opportunity to wipe away the turgid display down at Carrow Road came around quickly for Tony Pulis and his Middlesbrough squad which was probably the best remedy after the struggling Canaries beat the fancied but toothless Lions from the North. Bolton have had a turbulent few weeks in that they were heading for Administration and then rescued after a deal was struck late last week but the footballing side of things apparently felt the impact of all the off field drama surrounding the club’s future. After an optimistic start to their season they were surprisingly beaten 2-1 at home by Steve McLaren’s struggling QPR on Saturday.

With both clubs suffering unexpected setbacks tonight was going to be a chance to get things back on track. Phil Parkinson would probably see an away point as a good return whilst TP would want to see a reaction after a rather insipid midfield display lead to our first defeat of the season. The hope from many Boro fans was that there would be repercussions and some of the “names” dropped with the peripheral players given a chance to prove their worth, the likelihood of such drastic action from the Boro manager however would be remote.

The visit of our Carling Cup opponents all those years ago in Cardiff would see the return of the Redcar Rock and current Trotters club captain David Wheater. In fact there are quite a few ex-Boro connections plying their trade for the Whites nowadays. In addition to Wheats there are Andrew Taylor, Gary O’Neil, Jonathan Grounds and Yanic Wildschut however an ankle injury would preclude the appearance of former Boro loanee Sammy Ameobi who managed a solitary goal for us in his nine outings during the dark days of 2013 along with Taylor who had joined him on the injured list. Finally not forgetting that on the Academy staff at Bolton there is Jimmy Phillips who graced Ayresome Park for three seasons in the early 90’s.

As bad as last week’s tribulations were the hardest part for Bolton fans will have been the sudden death of former Chairman Eddie Davies who pumped money into the club paying off their debt previously and gave them arguably their most successful period since the late 1950’s. As if all that wasn’t bad enough after only five games since his move from Bradford following manager Phil Parkinson, Stephen Darby yesterday just announced his early retirement from the game at only twenty nine years old due to motor neurone disease.

Boro desperately needed a win to reclaim their promotion credentials but if ever a team was due even the merest sliver of luck it surely couldn’t be more deserving then Bolton tonight. Team news on a very blustery evening at the Riverside saw that Fry, Assombalonga and Besic had dropped to the bench with Saville, Hugill and Braithwaite getting starts. The game commenced with Bolton momentarily having a foray and then it was all Boro on the front foot eager to press and in the opening few minutes there were several questionable Refereeing decisions that were to set the tone for the evening.

Matters of officialdom were not made any easier by the Assistant running the West Stand touchline who like Referee David Coote seemed to have a strange interpretation of the rules of the game. Of course I may have had some bias towards the Ref but the assistant who ran the line on the East Stand seemed to have a very good game in contrast, keeping up with play and recognising strong challenges from fouls.

Back to the game itself and a few unpunished whacks later including Shotton mysteriously managing to kick both his legs away from under himself there was plenty of intent on show. Howson was buzzing and Stewy put a brilliant early cross in to let Bolton know they were in for a tough evening which Shotton nearly got on the end of. We then had a penalty shout which was ignored and a few other stonewall free kicks that were waved away much to the relief of the “Whites” who had opted to play in an “Azure sea green blue” kit, clearly to avoid White clashing with Red in more blatant commercial greed although given the state of their finances it was perhaps forgivable.

As games go it was the proverbial game of two halves. In the first half Boro dictated the pace dominated possession and had Randolph almost as isolated as Britt was on Saturday. Howson got a cross in, Shotton one of his long throws but after ten minutes you had the feeling that it was going to be a very long night. Our efforts were well built up, almost artistic at times but the final balls were like those at half time you see from goalkeeping coaches, floating endless beautiful soft crosses in for the Keeper to leap gracefully and with ease to pluck the ball out of the air. Whilst Ben Alnwick was by far the busier of the two Keepers he must have thought he had auditioned for the Bing Crosby part in a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court singing “busy doing nothing”.

Howson was light years better than Saturday, Stewy had started well and clearly looked like he had a point to prove but the quality of our final balls were appalling. George Friend looked far livelier and alert and he and Stewy were comfortably bossing the left flank. On the Opposite side Shotton and Howson were in control whilst Clayton swept up (showing no ill effects from his stitches) centrally with Saville and Braithwaite buzzing. Bolton were so far entrenched the few hundred hardy fools risking life and limb who ventured over the Pennines tonight must have wondered why they bothered. At least the wind had died down by the end of the game to make the return journey less stressful.

With the clock showing twenty five minutes gone Howson unleashed a shot that was our first serious effort that had the until then quiet home support oohing and aahhing as it sailed over, close but not close enough but it offered hope against a rear-guard, holding out, defensive display from the visitors. Almost ten minutes later and with lots of passing and wasted final balls Gary O’Neil started to pay back the Kings ransom we forked out on him when he inexplicably passed back to cause mayhem in his own box. The chaos was partly cleared but fell to Saville who hit it and the ball flew through a gap and into the back of ex Makem Ben Alnwick’s net to put Boro deservedly 1-0 up.

Being a goal up was no more than we deserved but the manner of it was fortuitous beyond belief. We didn’t create it but happily settled for the Northern Irish International to open his Riverside account. It was such a relief to see a Boro midfielder who could hit a ball that was not only reasonably on target but one that didn’t trigger any alarms at Fylingdales. The Trotters looked to be rocking a little and next up was the lively Shotton to try his luck after being set up by Hugill.

Just before the half time break Braithwaite fizzed a shot that was going wide but had Alnwick panicking for a moment. Bolton had lost Hobbs with a bad gash earlier and although his replacement (ex Pulis defender Wilson) settled in and had a good game they were still a little disorganised at this stage as the half drew to a close with a Shotton cross in for Hugill to head over.

There were some good aspects in that first half in that with only four at the back instead of five we looked more intent on attacking and creating chances. Reality was that Bolton’s first half performance was really poor, they showed zero intent and I am less than convinced that it was down to our superiority and class but more down to them keeping things tight and hoping that Magennis would maybe get a break and nick something against the odds. It was the sort of performance reminiscent of an FA Cup third Round tie when a non-League side would try and hold out against a top Premiership side.

A solitary goal didn’t feel comfortable and as the sides entered the pitch for the second half to a fanfare of MMP’s making that crashed and burned like a juggling Latvian impressionist on X Factor we were hoping that Boro would now turn the screw against what was a very poor showing from the Redcar Rocks charges. The opening five minutes saw Bolton look a little livelier but we still came close with another Saville effort that this time was more consistent with a Boro midfielder and had the North Stand taking the default cover position.

That was as good as it got for a while for Boro as one of our former youngsters Grounds then hit a shot that had us all sitting up, taking notice and thinking “Typical Boro” ten minutes into the second half. Five minutes later Magennis tried an overhead shot that looked the part but was always well wide. Moments later and Vela had a weak effort well controlled by Randolph as it went straight at him.

Boro clearly stinging responded by George firing in a cross that Flint despatched but was ruled out for Offside (what did I say about the East Stand Lino making good accurate calls?). The game was getting a little tasty now as Bolton awake from their first half slumber decided to fight for a point and a few cards were now being flashed by the Coote in the middle. As McQueen was warming up the decision to take Downing off was pretty much confirmed when he clattered into a reckless and slightly late challenge picking up a yellow in the process. Lowe was booked for Bolton as things got a little heated and the game now descended into a scrappy, disconnected affair which suited Bolton more than Boro.

With fifteen minutes remaining Boro were looking edgy and had started dropping deep, clinging on especially after a Turkish version of wee Jimmy Krankie came on in the form of Oztumer who had the temerity of starting to run at the Boro defence. A panicky slice from Hugill back defending was gratefully caught by Randolph, and seconds later a well worked movement saw Oztumer quickly set up Grounds and Magennis who was clean through only for Saville to appear from nowhere and block the shot from his fellow Northern Irish International. Boro were rocking and Pulis brought McQueen on for Downing and a minute later Assombalonga for the bruised, bloodied and battered Braithwaite.

Two minutes later still and Besic was now introduced for the tiring Saville, Wildschut entered the fray for Grounds so one ex Boro lad off and another on except we knew this one had pace to burn. A low Britt shot on the byline won Boro a corner giving vaguehope that we could nick a second and put those jitters to bed but Flint headed it wide and the agony continued. Hugill was through and jinked to throw his marker off the scent and hit a shot with only Alnwick to beat except the shot was weaker than a Vaux Shandy. It wasn’t easy viewing and the sight of Howson now stretching out a tight muscle, hobbling around didn’t help but he stoically remained on the pitch, actively contributing by passing the ball around although sprints and tackles were now totally out of the question for him.

Five minutes of added time went up and then Yanic cut in and unleashed a shot which Randolph was equal to and sighs of relief went around the Riverside. We were digging in and clinging to that clean sheet counting the seconds and then unexpectedly a poor back header to Alnwick was latched onto by the lively Britt who took it to his left and calmly slotted the ball past Alnwick to celebrate with his arms crossed defiantly across his chest as the North Stand couldn’t believe what had just happened with twenty seconds remaining.

Two nil and back up to second place, one point behind the Dirties with Swansea up next. The League maybe doesn’t lie but that tonight was less than impressive. Should Bolton make the Play offs we may over time be a little less dismissive of the performance but the truth is that two unforced errors handed us three points on a plate. We can’t rely on other sides being so generous.

MOM is a difficult one as there weren’t many outstanding displays. In the first half Howson and Braithwaite looked good but overall I thought Shotton did well, Saville showed some fight and a goal but it has to be Clayts again who rarely put a foot wrong despite his wounds.

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