Bolton blunder

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The Independent Online
LIKE the ocean, the deeper you go down the Premiership the greater the pressure becomes. Bolton, who sank to the bottom with this result, have become the equivalent of plankton, allowing their fellow strugglers to feed upon them. Yesterday's defeat meant that they had given up every point in their eight away games, and also allowed Southampton a greater chance of keeping their heads above water come May.

The match, which verged wildly between the somnolent and the frantic, was decided in typical relegation fashion, when Southampton substitute David Hughes scored with his first touch inside a minute of coming on the field, tapping home after Jim Magilton's toe-poke had hit the post.

Bolton may seek consolation in the freak nature of the goal, but it would be a false reward. Apart from a spurt early in the second half and a mad surge after the goal, the Wanderers were just that, unsure in defence, impotent in attack and lacking confidence in all departments.

Their five-man defence did give them the illusion of security through most of the first half, although Keith Branagan needed to save sharply twice from Matthew Le Tissier, first from a powerful header, later from a thumping left-foot drive after the England reject had arrogantly nutmegged Chris Fairclough.

Bolton drew some encouragement from the quietly impressive form of their Serbian acquisition Sasa Curcic, but their only chances were gifted to them by the home goalkeeper, David Beasant.

Having survived a penalty appeal for bringing down Curcic, the unnerved goalkeeper muffed a clearance to the same player, who dithered fatally with an open goal beckoning before shooting wide. Beasant then watched in horror as the ball squirted from his glove as he attempted a throw- out, but fortunately for him Alan Thompson, the likely beneficiary, had his back to play. With the knockabout stuff over, Bolton briefly acquired some coherence, with Beasant producing a splendid save right after the interval from John McGinlay's volley.

Then came the substitution - Le Tissier passed forward, Neil Shipperley laid off, and Magilton burst between two defenders to set up Hughes. Southampton duly held on, continuing their happy knack of taking points off those around them. But for Bolton the abyss beckons.