Branagan stands firm and propels Bolton up from the depths

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The Independent Online
Leeds United O Bolton Wanderers 1

However their season ends - and the smart money, even in their home- town, remains on it being in relegation - Bolton will at least be able to boast of one feat of rising from the depths with a speed that would give a diver the bends.

Town and club were engulfed in gloom after last Sunday's 6-0 defeat by Manchester United. There could have been nothing more painful to Bolton fans and it was clear from the reduced turn-out at Elland Road that many gave up on them as a result.

What they missed was a revival six days later that suggested that maybe - if only maybe - all is not yet lost.

Bolton made up ground on all the teams immediately above them by virtue of a stubborn rearguard action in which their goalkeeper, Keith Branagan, was outstanding.

It was not always the tidiest goalkeeping. Several times Branagan had to scramble after shots that he had stopped but not held; but he always got there.

He was also helped by a revamped defence, dominated by the uncomplicated and forceful Simon Coleman, with Gudni Bergsson, who scored Bolton's goal, effective at right-back.

Bolton added up to more than the sum of their parts going forward. A line-up with just one front-runner - Nathan Blake, who has scored just once in three months and looks like it - should not strike terror into anybody. But Leeds, often ponderous and cumbersome, could easily have conceded further goals.

In United's defence, Howard Wilkinson had his usual litany of players missing through injury. More fundamental, especially in the first half, was the feeling that Premiership football was an unwarranted interruption to the Cup campaigning which has occupied them for the last month.

"There were three or four who wanted to play and the rest just wanted to join in," said Wilkinson, with the air of a man who had pointed out exactly who fell into which category at half-time.

Leeds were far more committed after that interval, but, with Branagan in one of his impregnable moods, still finished badly embarrassed.

During their knock-out exploits, it might have slipped Leeds' minds that they are still not mathematically safe from relegation. Rest assured, Howard Wilkinson will be reminding them of that fact this week, just as Colin Todd will be stressing that a third away win on the trot - at Coventry in two weeks - could make their arithmetic look a lot more hopeful.

Goal: Bergsson (16) 0-1.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Lukic; Radebe (Gray, 80), Wetherall, Beesley, Worthington (Couzens, 74); Wallace, McAllister, Palmer, Deane; Yeboah, Brolin. Substitute not used: Ford.

Bolton (4-4-1-1): Branagan; Bergsson, Coleman, Fairclough, Phillips; Green, Stubbs, Sellars, Paatelainen; Curcic; Blake (De Freitas, 74). Substitutes not used: Lee, Burnett.

Referee: G Willard (Worthing). Attendance: 30,106.

Bookings: Leeds: Worthington, Brolin, Wetherall. Bolton: Bergsson.

Man of the match: Branagan.