This month last year Bolton Wanderers drew 2-2 against a full-strength Bayern Munich in Bavaria in front of 66,000 fans in the Uefa Cup. We forgot about that. We did so because what we remember of Bolton last season is that Nicolas Anelka played his last game for them on 2 January, after which Bolton won one of the next 12 games taking them into April. They then won three of their last five to finish 16th and ensure an eighth consecutive season in the Premier League.
But along the way Sammy Lee was dismissed and Gary Megson came in and the perception of Wanderers was of a club downsizing for relegation. Yet under Sam Allardyce a squad capable of finishing eighth, sixth, eighth and seventh in the previous four seasons was assembled and the team sheet on Saturday revealed personnel dripping with experience. That contrasted with Middlesbrough, whose back five were aged 25, 24, 23, 22 and 21. "We don't get a lot of credit, we really don't," said the Bolton captain, Kevin Nolan. "I wouldn't call us ugly. Perhaps a few years ago when we first came up we were ugly at times, but we have really come on in the last few seasons."
If he can build upon his goal and all-round effort, Johan Elmander can become a Wanderers emblem. Anelka's replacement cost £11m from Toulouse in the summer but his rasping 78th-minute volley was only his second goal in white. The Swede spoke afterwards about the difficulty in acclimatising but, in Megson, Elmander has a patient, believing manager.
"One of the things we have spoken about this week is that he will never be a Nicolas Anelka because he is not the same sort of player," Megson said. "I don't know if downhearted is the right phrase but there was pressure on him. Johan's performances have been class, but we all do it, we judge on goals. But you saw the shift he put in today."
Elmander was fouled to gain the eighth-minute free-kick from which Gretar Steinsson's header went in off Kevin Davies' back. Matt Taylor made it 2-0 two minutes later and Middlesbrough never recovered. Emanuel Pogatetz thrashed in a 77th-minute hope-raiser but Elmander snuffed it out within a minute.
Goals: Stenisson (8) 0-1; M Taylor (10) 0-2; Pogatetz (77) 1-2; Elmander (78) 1-3.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2) Turnbull; Hoyte, Wheater, Pogatetz, A Taylor (Arca, 77); Aliadière (A Johnson 59), O'Neil, Digard, Downing; Tuncay, Alves (Emnes, 75). Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Hines, Grounds, Walker.
Bolton Wanderers (4-5-1) Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, O'Brien, Samuel; Davies, Nolan, Muamba, McCann, M Taylor (Gardner, 89); Elmander (Smolarek, 85). Substitutes not used: Al Habsi (gk), Shittu, Basham, Obadeyi, Riga.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).
Booked: Middlesbrough Pogatetz, Digard; Bolton Wanderers Muamba, Cahill, Samuel, Nolan, McCann.
Man of the match: Elmander.
Attendance: 24,487.Reuse content