Hignett's hurrah

Bolton Wanderers 1 McGinlay 24 Middlesbrough 1 Hignett 77 Atte ndance:18,376
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The Independent Online
THE two sides who shared promotion from last season's First Division split their first meeting in the Premiership neatly down the middle. Each dominated a half and each emerged with a goal and a point, although Bolton will wonder how they denied a resurgent Middlesbrough victory.

Bolton began the new era ushered in by the loss of Jason McAteer and the impending departure of Alan Stubbs with plenty of confidence and were full value for their half-time lead. With Gerry Taggart slotting comfortably into Stubbs' role as both captain and key defender, Bolton had all the momentum in the first 45 minutes. Their goal was typical of the best that John McGinlay has scored during his productive career with the club, taking Fabian deFreitas' through ball, flicking it up almost casually on his right foot and firing a dipping shot over the helpless Gary Walsh, on his debut.

Something mysterious happened to both sides at half-time. Middlesbrough, so insipid in the first half, clearly benefited from a good talking to from Bryan Robson.

The real mystery surrounds Bolton, who, after showing so much promise, lost all their impetus. Had there been something prophetic about the announcer's mistake in forgetting to read out the name of the club's other saleable asset, Alan Thompson? He was not the only Bolton player to go missing after the break.

Middlesbrough, with Nicky Barmby and Craig Hignett starting to flit around menacingly, were a different side and Bolton struggled to stay with them. Keith Branagan had to show brave and quick reactions to save at close range from Barmby (twice), Hignett and Jamie Pollock before he was finally beaten. Hignett pushed a pass to Barmby, sprinted for the return and gave Branagan no chance with his low-angled shot.

Memories had been creeping back of the match last year when Bolton held out throughout a second-half siege to interrupt Middlesbrough's progress towards the automatic promotion spot. "But we stuck at it today and it was only a matter of time before we got something out of the match," Robson's assistant, Viv Anderson, said.

For Bolton's Roy McFarland the moral was clear. "We gave the ball away far too much in the second half and it it had not been for Branagan we would have dropped all three points. But we will improve, I'm certain of that," he promised.