Sunderland showed more of the qualities needed to keep a side out of the bottom three than Bolton, as two late goals gave them the win their second-half performance merited. Stéphane Sessègnon scored the first and set up the second to earn the points which will take a lot of the immediate pressure off his manager, Steve Bruce.
Two changes involving Sessègnon set the scene for the result. Bruce used him in a wider role than recently and got him to change his boots at half-time after he had struggled in moulded soles.
"He's been playing just off the striker, which he prefers, but it's sod's law that we play him wider and he scored," said Bruce. "But wherever he plays he's got that bit of magic. He's got that low centre of gravity and he's a danger."
Although Sessègnon was the undoubted star of the show, there was a growing conviction running through the team as a whole as the game went on.
"Overall in the second half we definitely deserved it," Bruce said. "At half-time, we just wanted to take the shackles off and thankfully they responded in the right way."
Perhaps not surprisingly, after the relative euphoria of their first victory since the opening day of the season at Wigan last week, Bolton stuck with an unchanged team.
Bruce named what looked like an attack-minded line-up, including both Nicklas Bendtner, on loan from Arsenal, and Connor Wickham, the expensive 18-year-old from Ipswich, making his first Premier League start, as a new front two.
Yet in the first half, it was mainlythe defensive capabilities of this revised formation that were put to the test. Wanderers played with plenty of width and energy, with Chris Eagles getting in a couple of threatening early crosses. It was also his clever flick for David Ngog that produced the best chance of the half, side-footed past the post by Darren Pratley.
There was a lack of any real precision about Bolton's display, but they still had Sunderland on the back foot sufficiently to force a succession of free-kicks, with Michael Turner and Kieran Richardson going into the book in the process.
It did not add up to enough to keep the supporters of either side insulated from the wind blowing down from the aptly named Winter Hill, but better was to come for the Wearside following. Sunderland could at least claim a marked improvement in the second half, even before their late double strike. The first chance, however, fell to Bolton's winger, Martin Petrov, who shot weakly straight at the goal-keeper to cap a thoroughly off-colour afternoon for him.
There were unmistakeable signs that it was Sunderland who were destined to finish the stronger in the double block that Dedryck Boyata and David Wheater made to deny Richardson.
It was Boyata's last contribution, having injured himself trying to keep one of Jussi Jaaskelainen's eccentric clearances in play. His replacement, Ricardo Gardner, quickly put in a deep cross, volleyed off the target by Eagles.
That was as good as it got for Bolton, as they lost their way at both ends of the field. Jaaskelainen made a good save from Sessègnon, Gary Cahill had to clear rapidly to avert another threat and then Gardner was robbed by Seb Larsson and Wickham hit the bar with a speculative effort.
Bolton were riding their luck but it all went wrong in spectacular fashion in the last eight minutes. First they failed to clear Larsson's corner, with Paul Robinson having the best chance to head it to safety and Sessègnon was there to drive it in.
Pratley had a close-range effort saved as Bolton hunted an equaliserbut they left the door open at the other end three minutes into added time, Sessègnon feeding Bendtner for a simple second goal.
"The second half wasn't good enough," admitted the Bolton manager, Owen Coyle. "If you don't do it for the whole of the game, you're going to be heavily punished.
"You can't play for part of the game. You need everyone to be close to their maximum and two many of our players weren't today."
Bolton (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Boyata (Gardner, 53), Cahill, Wheater, Robinson; Eagles, Reo-Coker, Pratley, Petrov (Kakuta, 65); K.Davies (Klasnic, 65), Ngog.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Mignolet; O'Shea, Turner, Brown, Richardson (Bardsley 86); Sessègnon, Vaughan, Colback, Larsson; Wickham, Bendtner.
Referee Mike Jones.
Man of the match Sessegnon (Sunderland).
Match rating 5/10.Reuse content