Bolton Wanderers 1 Middlesbrough 1: Allardyce admits defeat to McClaren

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The rivalry between two candidates for a certain high-profile appointment failed to produce much of a sense of urgency or a clear-cut result at the Reebok Stadium last night.

Apart from a brief flurry of excitement immediately after half-time when Adam Johnson opened the scoring for Middlesbrough and Bolton's Ricardo Vaz Te equalised, this was a game that smacked of two teams with their minds elsewhere.

Boro's Steve McLaren declined to be interviewed afterwards, but Sam Allardyce, of Bolton, came close to declaring him the victor of the bigger contest that underlay this one.

"He's the favourite, there's no point trying to hide it," he said. "I expect if the decision is [today], it would be in his favour."

It said everything that needed to be said about the way that their seasons have diverged that McLaren should be looking forward to a Uefa Cup final and being formally announced as the new England manager while Allardyce has only European qualification through the Intertoto Cup on his horizon.

McLaren, quite understandably, chose to name one of the more youthful squads in Middlesbrough's recent history, with nine changes in his starting line-up, including a goalkeeper making his debut. That goalkeeper Ross Turnbull, was the undoubted star of a first five minutes in which Bolton could have won the game.

Starting as though they sensed youthful vulnerability, the Wanderers had two early chances but were denied by Turnbull on each occasion. First he saved at close range when Vaz Te was clean through and then did equally well to get a foot to Kevin Nolan's flick after Henrik Pedersen's cross had found the Bolton captain alone at the near post.

After that, the game settled into a tempo for which the term "end of season" suggests a little too much in the way of frenetic activity. Kevin Davies' volley from Hidetoshi Nakata's cross flew towards the sprinkling of Middlesbrough fans in the stand behind the goal from Bolton's best opening.

Johnson, an 18-year-old playing wide on the left, looks a neat and genuinely two-footed player. It was his cross that gave Aiyegbeni Yakubu a header for Boro's only first-half chance and, a minute after the break, he cut in and let fly with his right, a deflection off Tal Ben Haim proving enough to beat Jussi Jaaskelainen. That lead lasted all of three minutes - Jay Jay Okocha crossed smartly from the right and Vaz Te got in front of his marker to head home.

The only chance to win the game after that fell to Boro but Ugo Ehiogu missed from point-blank range.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Jaaskelainen; Hunt, Ben Haim, Faye, Pedersen; Campo (Borgetti, 85); Nolan (Giannakopoulos, 68), Okocha, Nakata (Speed, 75); K Davies, Vaz Te. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Jaidi.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Turnbull; McMahon (A Davies, 59), Ehiogu, Wheater, Queudrue; Parlour, Cattermole, Doriva, Johnson (Taylor, 73); Yakubu, Christie (Maccarone, 66). Substitutes not used: Knight (gk), Kennedy.

Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).

* Reports last night said Gareth Southgate will put his name forward to be the new Middlesbrough manager should Steve McClaren be confirmed as the England manager today.