Diouf downs City as Bolton stay on track for Europe

Manchester City 0 Bolton Wanderers 1
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The Independent Football

The idea of Bolton Wanderers playing in Europe hardly crossed Sam Allardyce's mind when his team ended December with their sixth successive defeat. Victory at the City of Manchester Stadium last night, however, lifted Bolton into sixth place in the Premiership. Even a Champions' League place could now be within their range.

The idea of Bolton Wanderers playing in Europe hardly crossed Sam Allardyce's mind when his team ended December with their sixth successive defeat. Victory at the City of Manchester Stadium last night, however, lifted Bolton into sixth place in the Premiership. Even a Champions' League place could now be within their range.

Bolton, who now prepare for this weekend's FA Cup quarter-final at home to Arsenal, were well worth their three points, creating nearly all the best chances against a Manchester City team who before the game had been talking of their own European ambitions. City enjoyed plenty of possession but rarely troubled a Bolton defence in which Bruno N'Gotty and Tal Ben Haim were outstanding.

In El Hadji Diouf Bolton also had the game's most dangerous forward. It has not been the easiest of seasons for the Senegalese striker, who has been at the centre of spitting controversies, but he showed here why Allardyce would like to turn his loan move from Liverpool into a permanent deal. His pace, deft touches and awareness of his team-mates' positions regularly opened up the City defence.

City started brightly enough and should have taken the lead midway through the first half after a bizarre sequence of errors in the Bolton defence. Vincent Candela miscued his attempted overhead clearance and the ball rolled back to his goalkeeper, Jussi Jaaskelainen, who fumbled the ball into Robbie Fowler's path. From five yards out the striker lifted the ball over the diving Jaaskelainen, but to his horror it also cleared the crossbar.

Bolton grew comfortable as the half wore on, with Diouf and Kevin Nolan making inroads. The winning goal came as the first half went into injury time. City only half-cleared a free-kick from the left and when Nolan headed back into the box Stelios Giannakopoulos found space behind Danny Mills. The Greek drove the ball across goal for Diouf to score at the far post.

City's play became increasingly ragged in the second half and though Kiki Musampa's late header flew just wide of a post it was Bolton who looked more likely to score. Giannakopoulos, sent through by Diouf's clever pass, got the ball caught under his feet, allowing Richard Dunne to clear, and Diouf blazed a shot wide of the post after gliding past Dunne. Kevin Davies went close twice within a minute, forcing David James to make a smart save from his left-foot volley and then seeing his header go just wide of the far post from the subsequent corner.

Allardyce does not rebuff talk of a Champions' League place. "If we keep this run going anything is possible," he said after the game. "In the end it was a comfortable victory for us. It was a difficult start, but we overcame that. We made a few errors which gave Manchester City a couple of chances. We scored the goal at the right time for us and at a bad time for them. We soaked up a bit of pressure early in the second half but then we started to pick them off."

Keegan refused to blame the absence of the injured Shaun Wright-Phillips and six other first-team regulars. "We didn't work their goalkeeper much," he said. "We didn't create enough, particularly considering that we were the home side. We are missing players, but I thought we still had a strong team on paper. Too many players were just struggling to get going tonight."

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Mills, Dunne, Distin, Sommeil; Flood (McManaman, h-t), Reyna, Bosvelt (B Wright-Phillips, 68), Musampa; Sibierski (Croft, 83), Fowler. Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Bischoff.

Bolton Wanderers (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Candela (Jaidi, 89), Ben-Haim, N'Gotty, Gardner; Giannakopoulos, Nolan, Hierro (Campo, 86), Okocha (Speed, 45), Diouf; Davies. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Speed, Pedersen.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

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