Branagan the brave

Bolton Wanderers 1 McGinlay 24 Middlesbrough 1 Hignett 77 Att endance:18,376
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The Independent Online
THE two sides promoted from last season's First Division dominated a half each and emerged with a point each, although Bolton might wonder how they managed to deny a resurgent Middlesbrough all three. Full value for their half-time lead, Bolton only survived as long as they did after the break, through the brave goalkeeping of Keith Branagan.

With Jason McAteer departed and Alan Stubbs in limbo, awaiting the move he craves, the more paranoid at Burnden Park could have read much into the omission of the club's other valuable asset, Alan Thompson, from the team as conveyed by the ground announcer.

False alarm - Thompson was on the team sheet and on the pitch when Bolton kicked off a game which they badly needed to win.

Stubbs' role in defence and his captain's armband both passed to Gerry Taggart, making his Bolton debut after his summer signing from Barnsley. Bolton's supporters, exasperated by the whole Stubbs affair, were predisposed to like him and Taggart obliged by forming the solid foundation from which his new side launched a string of promising attacks.

The only serious worry for the home team came when Middlesbrough's Nick Barmby went down in the area under a challenge from Jimmy Phillips. Barmby was so incensed by the failure to earn a penalty that he was booked for dissent.

There was no arguing, however, with the goal that put Bolton in the lead. Fabian DeFreitas, deceptively slick on the turn, got free to aim his pass into John McGinlay's path. The Scottish international flicked the ball up twice, almost casually, on his right foot before sending a dipping shot over the head of Gary Walsh.

Jan-Aage Fjortoft almost responded in kind for Middlesbrough, but his efforts dipped a fraction too late. Bolton still finished the half looking by far the stronger side, especially when McAteer's replacement, the Dutchman Richard Sneekes, had a fierce shot beaten out.

No doubt tongue-lashed for their insipid showing by Bryan Robson at half time, Middlesbrough came out revitalised, causing Bolton more trouble in the first five minutes than they had in the previous 45 and forcing Keith Branagan into two close-range saves from Barmby.

Bolton appeared to have weathered the worst of Middlesbrough's retaliation until Barmby sent Craig Hignett running in on goal. Once more, the sharp reactions of Branagan were crucial in preserving Bolton's lead.

There were further scares when the lively Barmby shot into the side netting and Branagan had to throw himself at a pair of feet yet again - this time Jamie Pollock's - to prevent an equaliser. Eventually, the inevitable arrived, Hignett playing a precise one-two with Barmby and this time leaving even the inspired Branagan with no chance.

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