Stelios steers Bolton into unfamiliar comfort zone

Bolton Wanderers 3 - Fulham 1
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The Independent Online

Even though Bolton Wanderers are enjoying their best-ever Premiership season, they can have had few more comfortable afternoons than at the Reebok yesterday.

Even though Bolton Wanderers are enjoying their best-ever Premiership season, they can have had few more comfortable afternoons than at the Reebok yesterday.

The outcome was effectively decided within the first 15 minutes when Claus Jensen conceded a penalty for handling on the line, a crime compounded by the inevitable red card that followed.

Jay-Jay Okocha unsurprisingly converted the penalty and from then on, apart from a short period at the beginning of the second half, Bolton were in complete control.

Kevin Nolan added a second before Luis Boa Morte pulled one back just after the break, but if Fulham sensed an unlikely comeback Stelios Giannakopoulos's sixth goal of the season moments later disabused any such notion.

Bolton, who had never previously beaten Fulham in the Premiership, went on to complete their fifth win in six home matches and their day was to become even better as news of Liverpool's defeat, to add to those of Charlton and Middlesbrough, filtered through. With Everton at home to Crystal Palace today, they stand within two points of fourth place and qualification for the Champions' League

"We had to get over the disappointment of losing to Liverpool last week and that made these three points even more important," said Sam Allardyce, the Bolton manager. "You can only win your own games and that's we've done and the other results have gone for us as well today."

For Fulham, whose victory over Portsmouth last week is their only one in seven games, these are worrying times. Even allowing for their one-man disadvantage, this was a comprehensive defeat. Sides in the bottom six, as they now are, cannot afford the luxury of letting games like this slip away without so much as a whimper.

For much of this season they have played with only one striker but after scoring three second-half goals against Portsmouth last week with a front two, Chris Coleman, the Fulham manager, paired Brian McBride with Andy Cole. It was a plan of commendable attacking intent but one thrown into disarray by Jensen's dismissal.

Stelios's right-wing corner was met by an unmarked Bruno N'Gotty, who headed towards the corner. Standing on the post, Jensen's impulsive reaction was to use his arm to repel the ball. Dermot Gallagher had little choice but to brandish a red card.

"There was a foul by N'Gotty before the header but Dermot didn't see it," said Steve Kean, the Fulham assistant manager. "Claus said the ball hit his chest then his arm so it was an honest attempt to make a block and it was a case of ball to arm.

"We'd been working all week on playing a narrow [midfield] four so after that it was very difficult for us." Okocha converted the spot-kick with customary panache and the Nigerian, who has just been named BBC African Footballer of the Year for the second year running, also had a hand in Bolton's second. It was his deep cross that Kevin Davies headed into the path of Nolan to score from 10 yards.

The interval could not come quickly enough for the west London club and they halved the deficit within two minutes of the restart. McBride fed Cole down the right and his cross enabled Boa Morte to channel his growing frustration in a positive direction.

Bolton's third stemmed from Vincent Candela winning possession from a casual Steed Malbranque. Nolan waited for Stelios to dart into the area before passing inside Zat Knight, leaving the Greek international to chip over the advancing Edwin Van der Sar.

Their superiority reasserted, Bolton's victory was completed with rare comfort for a side more accustomed to winning by the odd goal.

"We showed our passing quality by breaking down a team with 10 men and we had the chances to score several more goals," said Allardyce.

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