Pahars strike brings Bolton back to earth

Bolton Wanderers 0 Southampton 1
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The Independent Football

A quite awful game was enlivened by an undeserved, though excellent strike by the Southampton substitute Marian Pahars which finally broke his side's goal duck and served to highlight the precarious nature of Bolton's precocious rise to the heights of the English game; a position which, judging by performance at least, is likely to end sooner rather than later.

After a dream start to the season, the confidence with which Bolton opened proceedings was hardly unexpected, but the initial fizz, orchestrated by Per Frandsen, never converted to the promised sparkle.

The industrious midfield playmaker twice came close to opening the league-leaders' account in the opening 20 minutes with well-intentioned free-kicks; the first struck the post, with the Southampton goalkeeper, Paul Jones, stranded, and his next effort forced an excellent parrying save. While these strikes showed an eye for goal, his delightful chipped pass over Claus Lundekvam deserved better control from the Trotters' leading goalscorer, Michael Ricketts, but, with just Jones to circumvent, his touch failed him.

An injury to the Dane early in the second half, saw him limp out of the game. "There were two key factors in the final outcome today," said the Bolton manager Sam Allardyce. "We lost Per Frandsen, who had been controlling the game, and we hit the woodwork twice." The implication was that Bolton had been unlucky, and it was a fair assessment.

The visitors, who were seeking their first point ­ and goal ­ of the campaign, appeared every inch a bottom-of-the-table side and despite this fortuitous victory their stay among the elite is, at best, under review. The sum of their genuine threat, other than the goal, was a desperate diving header and a driven shot from James Beattie, and a profligately wide strike from Rory Delap. None of these troubled Jussi Jaaskelainen in the Bolton goal.

More worrying for Stuart Gray's men was the apparent lack of a coherent system in their play and what looked confusing from the stands ­ the right-footed striker Kevin Davies confined almost exclusively to the left flank or deep in midfield, for example ­ translated into a disparate hotch-potch of misplaced passes and almost nothing in the way of creative fare. Gray's contention that the blame lay with the awful weather conditions rang only partially true.

In hope more of breaking the deadlock than the tedium, the respective managers injected their strikeforces with Dean Holdsworth and Pahars, and their presence had the near-instantaneous effect of opening up the game. The woodwork was tested a second time by a Bolton player, Bo Hansen the unfortunate on this occasion, and then, in the visitors' first move of note or quality, Pahars struck decisively.

Wayne Bridge deserted his post at left full-back and seared infield to the Bolton box before stroking the perfect pass for the Latvian to finish from eight yards.

Bolton Wanderers 0 Southampton 1

Pahars 77

Attendance: 24,378