As he seeks to build a reputation in management, Gareth Southgate would certainly not want to be known for presiding over the leakiest defence in the Premiership. So it will have been with a good measure of satisfaction that the former England centre-back claimed a point from this rarely engaging stalemate at the Reebok Stadium.
Southgate's team had shipped nine goals in four matches before yesterday - more than any other in the top flight - but the arrival of Jonathan Woodgate on loan from Real Madrid is already looking a major coup for Steve McClaren's successor.
A key figure in gaining Boro a point with 10 men against Arsenal last weekend, Woodgate took the captaincy in the absence of the suspended George Boateng and produced another performance with the stamp of authority, subduing Nicolas Anelka's quest for his first goal as a Bolton player. Indeed, it could have been the platform for a Boro victory had Aiyegbeni Yakubu not squandered a chance with only the home goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen to beat inside the last 10 minutes.
Slipped through by Jason Euell as Bolton, who had been pushing for a late winner, found themselves exposed at the back, Yakubu was hurried as Jaaskelainen advanced and his chip sailed wide. But while Southgate conceded it had been "the best chance of the game" he was happy enough with a point after watching Woodgate confirm the promise he had shown at the Emirates Stadium.
"The back four in general were excellent but the two centre-backs in particular," Southgate said. "We knew Bolton would present a strong aerial threat but Jonathan and Emanuel Pogatetz both read the game really well."
Middlesbrough's fans, who have needed no time at all to take to a player born in their own town, chorused Woodgate's England claims and Southgate added his voice. "We know the class he has got and given a bit more football there is no question he will be knocking on the door," he said.
Both manager and player will appreciate, however, that they will face sterner tests than Bolton could provide as they sought to bed in Anelka within a system that had El Hadji Diouf and Stelios Giannakopoulos, the latter wide on the left, offering support, and the excellent Ivan Campo taking turns with Gary Speed to build from the back.
With the exception of Kevin Nolan, whom he withdrew in the second half as a back problem limited his effectiveness, the Bolton manager, Sam Allardyce, was pleased with two-thirds of his side's performance, faulting them only for the lack of a cutting edge. "Our finishing was average at best," Allardyce said.
"I don't remember Mark Schwarzer having a save of any note to make. But I can't be too down on the players because Arsenal found it just as hard to break down Middlesbrough's 4-5-1 system." As well as Boateng, Boro were without Stewart Downing, given time to rest a groin strain, and the presence of Lee Cattermole, Adam Johnson and James Morrison in midfield, as well as the full-backs Andrew Taylor and Andrew Davies, gave Southgate's side a youthful look.
It was perhaps unsurprising that their initial approach was tentative. Convinced to believe in themselves in the second half, however, they finished strongly and it took the best save of the game from Jaaskelainen to deny Yakubu even before the Nigerian missed his opportunity to turn one point into three.Reuse content