But still the Sunderland manager, Peter Reid, had cause for complaint: "I thought we were outstanding but every other team keeps winning and it's doing my head in. The bubbly's been in and out of the fridge for several games now."
For Bolton, though, the play-offs are now their only chance of regaining the Premiership place they lost last season. They have now conceded three goals in five of their last six games and, until the arrival of Eidur Gudjohnsen for the last quarter of an hour, their attack had none of the purpose nor potency of their opponents.
"We have lost our way and we can only get out of it by working together as a team," said the Bolton manager, Colin Todd. "We now have to earn the right to stay in the play-off places."
Sunderland started with some sweet flowing football lubricated by Lee Clark. In the fifth minute, he swept an immaculate crossfield ball to send Johnston away and in the ninth he shook off Per Frandsen on the edge of the area, broke Paul Warhurst's tackle and forced Jussi Jaaskelainen to make a fine flying save. Yet Sunderland's opening goal came through time-honoured route-one football. Niall Quinn nodded on a long clearance and Kevin Phillips spun around Mark Fish and confidently finished his 50th goal for the club with eight games remaining of his second season on Wearside.
In contrast, the second goal five minutes later was created when Chris Makin swept a crossfield ball so immaculate it would have made Clark proud. It fell to Johnston, who produced a double stepover that would have made Ronaldo proud. The feint of feet left Michael Johansen on his knees and Neil Cox bamboozled, creating space for the Scotsman to shoot past Jaaskelainen.
Until the first goal, though, Bolton had taken the fight to Sunderland. The visitors started the second half brightly, too, with Dean Holdsworth rolling the ball neatly into the path of Frandsen, who finished firmly from 18 yards. It was only the second goal Sunderland had conceded in nine games.
A Scott Sellars free-kick followed, which Thomas Sorensen clung to well, then a dangerous Claus Jensen probe. But Bolton's flurry was snuffed out by a devastating break from Sunderland. Quinn and Clark started it; Phillips took over before dropping the ball off to Johnston, whose wickedly swerving 20-yard shot made a fool of Jaaskelainen as it swung into the centre of the net. It was Johnston's seventh goal of the season.
Gamely Bolton regrouped, and in the last two minutes Gudjohnsen forced Sorensen to make a good block and then, from 25 yards, he beat the Danish goalkeeper only to see the ball bounce back from the bar.Reuse content