Match Report: Bolton v Boro

Michael Steele

After conceding 5 and seeing themselves surrender a lead twice to lose a game, Bolton needed a win but were faced with a Boro side revitalised under the management of former Real Madrid manager Aitor Karanka, the smoggies had strung three wins together and came to The Reebok with every chance of taking points off the hosts.

As for the line-ups, Bolton have struggled to patch a side together since the departure of loan signings Neil Danns and Kevin McNaughton. Tim Ream was shifted to his uncomfortable left-back role and Zat Knight started along side Matt Mills in the centre. Chris Eagles was deployed in a wide role as a Wanderers manager finally decided to use his pace in an area it is actually effective.

The game started in quite horrific fashion for Bolton Wanderers as Mustapha Carayol was looking to inflict early damage on a Wanderers back four that already looked a little cagey given the defensive frailties it had shown at the weekend. I'm sure even he mustn't of dreamt of the opportunity he was about to be handed.

Whilst receiving the ball in quite a large pocket of space, which the defender had created himself, Knight took a careless heavy touch which allowed Carayol the time to pick his spot and give Boro a dream start. It was a horrific opening to the game for The Wanderers and they had to rebuild, except Big Zat was not done yet.

With the big defender tracking back to sweep up and get the Wanderers up the pitch, Knight gestured to his goalkeeper Andy Lonergan that he would put the ball to the Goalkeepers right only to slip it down the Keepers left, a terrific piece of skill leaving Lonergan stranded and Curtis Main was there to poke the ball home and Middlesbrough were 2-0 before they had even realised they were playing.

The Bolton faithful were understandably frustrated and for short period of time, Knight's contributions were met with a loud chorus of boos from the stands. The defender, to his credit, picked himself up and dug deep but the task was now monumental.

The game slowly began to evolve as Boro looked to sit on their lead and invite Wanderers forward and looking for breaking opportunities when possible. These were focused in particular by looking to get Mustapha Carayol or Albert Adomah against the vulnerable Knight and countless balls were hit headed in that direction. Bolton seemed glad of the opportunity to make their mark on the game, Chris Eagles and Lee Chung-Yong were becoming involved and were thriving with having Mark Davies around to make things tick.

Bolton soon found a way back into the game as Alex Baptiste managed to curl a left footed shot around Irish Goalkeeping Legend Shay Given after storming forward and receiving the ball from Mark Davies. The full backs defensive qualities, particularly against pace have come under fire recently but this is one part of Baptiste's game that cannot be faulted and his ability as a full back to cut inside and score is quite rare and reminds me a lot of Glen Johnson at Liverpool.

Bolton continued to press but struggled to break down Middlesbrough, their only meaningful effort came with a trademark blocked Chris Eagles effort whilst at the over end the impressive Curtis Main also had a shot blocked for Boro. The whistle went for half time and the Wanderers went in one behind with the fans still upset and expressing their frustration vocally.

Half-time discussions were awash with if Dougie Freedman would keep Zat Knight on or put him out of his misery and remove him from the situation, the teams came out and there were no changes.

The Second half began much like the first ended with Wanderers looking to unlock the resilient Boro defences, it would take ten minutes for The Wanderers to create a chance and it was a good one at that with Mark Davies playing the ball through to Joe Mason whose Right-footed effort appeared to hit the back of the net to large sections of the Whites' faithful but it had missed narrowly wide and Bolton were still behind.

Bolton continued to press and continued to create meaningful chances, a wide Chris Eagles effort was followed shortly after by a thumping 20-yard Jay Spearing strike with the midfielder thwarted by a strong save from Given, who diverted the ball away from danger.

Chasing the game, Dougie Freedman looked to make changes and introduced Andre Moritz, left out to the surprise of many and top goalscorer Jermaine Beckford. Middlesbrough also made a change as they were losing their foothold on the game and Lukas Jutkiewicz was introduced.

It was Boro who would immediately benefit from the changes and The Smoggies enjoyed their best period of pressure of the entire game with Curtis Main and former Wanderers loan signing and worlds slowest walker Jacob Butterfield had chances but could not convert.

Bolton needed something else, the long ball tactics had not worked as apparent Striker Joe Mason was unfairly relied upon to do a job he simply could not do and with just over 10 minutes left, Freedman finally introduced the man for the job, David N'Gog, who instantly won a header which he knocked down to Chung-Yong Lee.

With minutes remaining, Wanderers piled on the pressure and Jermaine Beckford missed a decent left-footed chance which seemed to take all day to fall for the striker. It would not cost Bolton however as a minute later, with the game just entering added time, Wanderers were level as David N'Gog fired the ball across the Boro to give Bolton a deserved point. A day of mixed emotions at The Reebok in the sort of the game you really should be winning, no matter what your targets are.

Don't worry Zat, it's only football.

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