It's usually like this for struggling teams. No sooner do they shore up one malfunctioning area than a previously reliable department blows a serious gasket. Seven successive league trips without a goal had prompted Gareth Southgate to reshape his Middlesbrough line-up and demand a new boldness – a clarion call the healthy away following echoed by chanting "Attack, attack, attack". The manager witnessed ample invention from his side but also some defensive aberrations which Bolton were fully able to exploit with their first three goals.
It hardly matters that Boro did not deserve to lose so heavily or might have been in front at the three-quarter stage with sharper finishing. More pertinent is whether Southgate will be so cavalier in Saturday's home game against Hull.
Certainly, the post-match vocabulary was graphic. "On a scale of one to 10, the next game is a 12," said their Teesside-born central defender David Wheater. The manager himself said: "There's no suggestion I'll walk away. Resignation is like suicide, a selfish act."
To reach even 39 points, Middlesbrough have to break out of their worst away sequence since the war (nine straight league defeats) and a crippling run of one win in 19 games by finding the equivalent of four victories from their remaining seven.
Delightfully worked though the equaliser was from the now suspended Gary O'Neil, all hope will disappear if they repeat the horrors that preceded Gary Cahill's and Matt Taylor's goals that took the game away from them. Kevin Davies' opener was avoidable and the fourth, by the excellent Ricardo Gardner, largely immaterial.
The manager Gary Megson came to Bolton last season following the gain of five points from the first 10 games and is impressively readjusting targets. "We want to be pushing for a top 10 place," Davies said.
Goals: K Davies (8) 1-0; O'Neil (38) 1-1; Cahill (44) 2-1; Taylor (78) 3-1; Gardner (84) 4-1.
Bolton Wanderers (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, Shittu, Samuel; K Davies, Muamba, McCann, Gardner, Taylor; Elmander (Basham, 83). Substitutes not used: Al Habsi (gk), A O'Brien, Puygrenier, Cohen, Smolarek, Hunt.
Middlesbrough (4-3-1-2): Jones; Hoyte, Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz (Taylor, 35); Bates, O'Neil, Downing; Tuncay; Aliadière (Emnes, 75), Alves. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Shawky, King, McMahon, Walker.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: Bolton Shittu, Muamba; Middlesbrough O'Neil.
Man of the match: Gardner.
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