Robson's reverse

Middlesbrough 1 Pollock 36 Bolton Wanderers 4 Blake 12, Coleman 45, De Freitas 62, Lee 73 Attendance: 29,354
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The Independent Online
TWO teams vying for promotion when they last met staged a rematch that carried a distinct whiff of relegation. Bolton's swift return to the Endsleigh League seems unavoidable, in spite of this result; and that fate may yet befall Middlesbrough, whose dramatic decline is taking on calamitous proportions.

For Bolton, who had not won away from home since last April, rare jubilation; for Middlesbrough, familiar misery. This was their eighth consecutive defeat, the equal of a club record set in 1954, a relegation year.

Bryan Robson insists, adamantly, that there is no panic at present. "Nobody at this club got carried away when things were going well," he said, nodding towards the heady days of autumn, when their football was of a quality to match their shining Riverside Stadium.

His pre-match assertion that they might still manage to qualify for Europe, however, is now looking a little far-fetched.

There was no explanation for this, not in the absence of Juninho, at any rate. The Brazilian's return to his homeland allowed Robson to recreate the attacking combination on which his early success was based, with Craig Hignett and Nick Barmby behind Jan Fjortoft.

To be fair to Hignett, playing only his second match in three months, a touch of rustiness was to be expected. The others had no such excuse. If their outfield play at time lacked cohesion, their finishing was abysmal, even presented with the string of opportunities that Bolton's flimsy rearguard will always offer.

Having decided that attack would be the best defence, Colin Todd found that Middlesbrough played into his hands. In front from the 12th minute when Nathan Blake, his pounds 1.2m signing from Sheffield United, pounced to claim his first Bolton goal, the Lancashire side were pegged back by Jamie Pollock's fine equaliser but went ahead again before half time. Simon Coleman, playing his first game in over a year, headed home Alan Thompson's corner.

Immediately after the break, Chris Morris had two chances to equalise again. But a mistake by Keith O'Halloran led to Fabian De Freitas stretching Bolton's lead to 3-1, which seemed to sap the home side's self-belief. David Lee, cutting in from the right and shooting left-footed, added a splendid fourth.