Middlesbrough have been on the rise since winning the Carling Cup and yesterday a bizarre own goal by Bolton's Kevin Nolan continued them on that path.
Jonathan Greening stepped up his claim for a regular place by cementing victory with a 51st-minute strike, but by then the visitors' spirits were already sagging.Bolton almost took the lead in the first minute when Jay-Jay Okocha put a throw into the area. Henrik Pedersen got on the end of Kevin Davies' flick only to see his effort got narrowly wide. It was left to Nolan to open the scoring at the other end after seven minutes with a memorable own goal. In trying to clear a Gaizka Mendieta corner he steered the ball over his own shoulder and past a stunned Jaaskelainen. It set Bolton on a familiar path - they have now lost five of their last six league games and still need one more win to be assured of top-flight safety.
Bolton never recovered from Nolan's error and when Greening added a second the match was all but over. The former Manchester United midfielder has been on the fringes during his club's memorable season but his first goal of the campaign capped an industrious display. Massimo Maccarone swept the ball across the face of the area. Emerson Thome managed to deflect Mendieta's effort but only as far as Greening, who scored at the back post.
The Middlesbrough manager, Steve McClaren, has now seen his side score 23 goals in 13 games. "Winning the Cup was a morale booster and the players could have rested on that," McClaren said. "But they have put the medals away, got on with working and have set their own targets. Certainly since the new year we are second only to Arsenal in goals scored."
The Bolton manager, Sam Allardyce, is concerned his team might yet get sucked into a relegation battle. "We are still on 37 points and our first target is to get to 40," he said. "But I am bitterly disappointed not just with the result but our overall performance. It was not what I expected after our win over Newcastle and the amount of effort we showed against Chelsea and Arsenal. No disrespect to Middlesbrough but they are not quite as good as those three teams. This was a bread-and-butter game and I thought we just laid down and died."
Allardyce believes his squad's lack of numbers has finally caught up with them. "We have a very small squad and the players looked leg-weary and tired. We gave the ball away far too much and in the end played into Middlesbrough's hands."
Middlesbrough 2 Bolton Wanderers 0
Nolan og 8, Greening 51
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 30,107
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