Bolton fielded a familiar line up with midfielder Darren Pratley starting the game as the Wanderers looked to hit Boro on the break like they had done to other sides so effectively in recent weeks. Boro welcomed recent loan signing and Republic of Ireland legend Shay Given to their starting line up. It was a landmark day for the Irishman, who was making his 600th career appearance. Given was in the squad in place of the suspended former England U21 goalkeeper Jason Steele.
The game started in very cagey fashion with both sides struggling to create any meaningless opportunities, the most the Wanderers managed in the first 20 minutes was a deep-crossed free kick which was easily collected by Shay Given. Karanka's Boro started the game reasonably well and mustered chances with Kei Kamara and George Friend, which were both off target. Former Wanderers midfielder Jacob Butterfield was heavily involved in most of Boro's play and he also had a shot that was blocked well by Bolton's resilient defence.
The tension was slowly building and it was beginning to show from the players, Boro's Grant Leadbitter, who had a fine afternoon, was booked for a somewhat strong challenge on Wanderers captain, Jay Spearing.
In the second part of the first half, the Wanderers midfield began to influence the game more and enjoyed spells of possession that even in our current rich vein of form have not been prevalent enough. Jermaine Beckford nearly reaped the reward of Bolton's added impetus but was thwarted by Boro's former Doncaster Rovers defender, George Friend. This period of dominance culminated in a flurry of corners for Bolton, from which The Trotters were unable to capitalise.
It was Boro whoever who squandered the final chances of the half with as the strong Bolton back line, headed by the much improved Matt Mills, prevented crossing opportunities to the frustration of Middlesbrough's highly-rated Albert Adomah. The half time whistle soon followed and whilst neither team would be too upset in regards to their defence, the general consensus from supporters and media alike was the game very much needed a shot in the arm in the second half and perhaps the game was there for the taking for either side.
The half-time break brought no changes for either side but it was clear that both sides were keen to attack more from the off and try and impose themselves and become the dominant side early on. For Boro, Kie Kamara found space after receiving a near post cross but was unable to produce an effort on goal and for the Wanderers Beckford was heavily involved, firstly nearly capitalising on a poor Grant Leadbitter back-pass and then missing a glorious chance to put Wanderers ahead, firing well wide after good work from Jay Spearing to find the forward who in great form, will be disappointed not to have done better.
Moment later, Beckford had a further opportunity to put Bolton Wanderers ahead, firing over after Kevin McNaughton launched a speculative ball towards the Middlesbrough penalty area. Beckford perhaps could have attempted to gain greater control before dispatching goal wards. Bolton and in particular Jermaine Beckford had failed to capitalise on two very good opportunities and there was concern they could be made to pay for them.
Middlesbrough were not particularly playing badly but it was evident they were lacking bite, this was evident as Richard Smallwood was presented with a good shooting opportunity just outside the Bolton box and the impressive Matt Mills was quick to shut down the opportunity. Boro manager Aitor Karanka responded with the separate introductions of Curtis Main & Marvin Emnes. Shortly after, Wanderers responded with the quite obvious substitution of workhorse Darren Pratley, who was replaced by Brazilian Andre Moritz.
It was Boro who would apply the late pressure and eventually, Bolton would cave. American defender Tim Ream, who did not look as assured as he has in weeks previous, conceded a penalty after tripping second-half substitute, Marvin Emnes. The impressive Grant Leadbitter would cap off a fine display for Boro by sending goalkeeper Andy Lonergan the wrong way to fire Middlesbrough into the lead.
Dougie Freedman reacted immediately, throwing on forwards David N'Gog and new loan signing Joe Mason as Bolton sought to hit back immediately and leave the North East with the point they certainly deserved. They were presented a golden chance with two minutes of normal time remaining as Andre Moritz was brought down in the penalty area but it was not to be as Jermaine Beckford capped aoff a personal day to forget as he fired over the bar to the obvious anger of Bolton Wanderers manager Dougie Freedman.
A tough defeat to take for Bolton as the chances were there and on a different day this game could have been won comfortably. The result also see's Wanderers unbeaten run of 8 come to an end. Freedman's men will take comfort knowing they only have to wait until Tuesday before attempting to put this defeat behind them as Mark Robin's Huddersfield side come to the Reebok Stadium.