Faith, hope and charity all made seasonal appearances at the Reebok Stadium yesterday although it was Robbie Fowler, with the first hat-trick of his Leeds career, who stole the show and the points.
That the prolific striker also missed a woefully executed penalty was of little more than fleeting consequence to David O'Leary, who saw his side consolidate their place amongst the title-chasing pack. "The penalty was rubbish," the Leeds manager said of the late spot-kick that Fowler dragged wide six minutes from time. "Robbie felt he should hit it to the right then changed his mind and totally messed it up."
O'Leary spent considerably longer pondering on what he hopes will be a glorious future for Fowler, who has now scored five times since his £11m transfer from Liverpool at the start of the month, including yesterday's treble. That was his second league hat-trick of the season after netting three for Liverpool at Leicester in October.
"I think what we've paid for Robbie Fowler is excellent business," said O'Leary, happy that his faith in a sometimes temperamental talent seems to be paying off. "Consider his age, and what he will give you for many years, and that shows what a good deal it is. Robbie is an intelligent footballer and a great goalscorer. I am sure he'll score goals for us for many years to come."
Fowler was not the only player singled out for praise, although another recipient, Jonathan Woodgate, must surely thank the munificence of his club, rather than his mere on-pitch work, for the fact that he is even in a position to receive any. The defender, found guilty of affray earlier this month in relation to a vicious attack on a student last year, was given his first start of season.
"It was a good, solid centre-half performance," O'Leary said, adding that Woodgate's partnership with Rio Ferdinand had the potential to become one of the best defensive pairings in the country. Woodgate and his fellow defendant in the Hull Crown Court trial, Lee Bowyer, are both reported to have been offered new contracts by Leeds, demonstrating that Leeds' goodwill to the pair extends beyond words.
Leeds showed little goodwill to Bolton aside from Fowler's penalty miss. The first goal arrived in the second minute after some neat interplay between Alan Smith and David Batty. Fowler made space with a decent run to capitalise and tucked the ball into the corner beyond the reach of Jussi Jaaskelainen.
The visitors were forced into an early personnel change a few minutes later, Jason Wilcox replacing the injured Eirik Bakke, who took an early knock, but the momentum was not unduly disrupted. Fowler added his second shortly after the quarter hour after latching on to another decent feed, this time from Mark Viduka.
Bolton, who went into the game with just one point from their previous four games and desperately in need of some confidence to halt their slide, tried to stabilise by pushing forward in numbers. Unfortunately for them, they found Leeds solid at the back, not least Nigel Martyn. Paul Warhurst tried one effort from 30 yards but Martyn reacted superbly to tip his shot over. He was called into action again shortly afterwards to deal with a shot from Ricardo Gardner and turned it wide.
Despite these chances, Leeds were looking comfortable. Viduka shot narrowly wide in the second half and Wilcox also went close by hitting the post. Fowler then let slip a chance of sealing his hat-trick from the spot after Bowyer was tripped in the box. He made amends two minutes from time, producing another smooth finish after a pass from Smith.
Bolton were industrious throughout, but without being threatening. "Two pieces of rank bad defending caused our downfall," was the appraisal of their manager, Sam Allardyce, afterwards. "We've got to stop shipping goals."
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen 6; Charlton 5, Whitlow 5, Diawara 3, Barness 4 (Southall, 85); Warhurst 4 (Johnson 5, 70), Gardner 6, Nolan 4, Frandsen 5; Farrelly 5 (Pedersen 4, 60), Holdsworth 5. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), N'Gotty.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn 7; Kelly 5, Woodgate 6, Ferdinand 6, Matteo 5 (Harte 5, 45); Bowyer 6, Batty 6, Smith 7, Bakke (Wilcox 6, 6); Viduka 7, Fowler 8. Substitutes not used: Robinson (gk), McPhail, Duberry.
Referee: A Wiley (Burntwood) 6.Reuse content