The Bolton Wanderers manager Gary Megson was forced this week to deliver one of those unappealing votes of confidence in a player deemed to be struggling. In this case it was Megson's Swedish striker Johan Elmander. Bought from Toulouse for £11 million to replace Nicolas Anelka, Elmander scored on his debut against Stoke on the season's opening day. But since then, nothing, which is why Megson felt obliged to speak.
Whatever was said, it worked: yesterday Elmander rounded off a gallant solo performance with a meaty 78th-minute volley that removed any doubt that Bolton would register their second league win in eight months at the Riverside.
"His quality was exceptional, his work-rate was exceptional and people will look at him differently today becauseof his goal," Megson said of Elmander. "I've never been more pleased for anyone in all my time than for Johan scoring today. That should take a bit of pressure off him."
In April Bolton arrived with their Premier League status in peril and laden with anxiety. They won 1-0. Yesterday was nerveless by comparison and Megson was able to say afterwards: "I don't feel I've got a team that will be in any trouble at all. But we've probably got the smallest squad ever in the Premier League and we've got to work on that in January."
If they do, Megson's faith will not look misplaced. Bolton were more experienced and physically more powerful than young Middlesbrough and might have scored six. As it was the two goals in the first 10 minutes gave them a sense of control Boro never disrupted. Despite arriving with a seemingly conservative five-man midfield, Bolton attacked from kick-off and when Matt Taylor swung in a free- kick from the right with his left foot, Gretar Steinsson met it at the far post. His header glanced off the back of Kevin Davies as it beat Turnbull and Megson said it was Davies's goal.
The Riverside grumbled but it soon got worse. In Bolton's next attack, Steinsson whipped in a low cross. Taylor, quicker in thought than the entire Middlesbrough defence, created space with his first touch12 yards out and then guided a firm diagonal shot across Turnbull and in off the upright. A fine goal, as good as Elmander's later.
Boro could point to two Gary O'Neil shots being cleared off the line by Kevin Nolan and Andy O'Brien and Tuncay Sanli (pictured) twice going close after the interval, but Gareth Southgate was correct to say the team were "off it" collectively. Even when Emanuel Pogatetz spanked one in to make it 2-1 it was a mere 58 seconds before Elmander replied. Along the way Fabrice Muamba missed a couple for the visitors. Boro's five game unbeaten run is over.
Referee: M Atkinson
Man of the match: Elmander
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content