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MARC ILES' BIG MATCH VERDICT: Middlesbrough 2 Wanderers 0

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karlypants

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
As wretched in the first half as they were impressive in the second, Bolton have only themselves to blame for the game’s decisive goal, scored by George Saville. Veteran Gary O’Neil will hold up his hands for a moment of madness on the edge of his own penalty box in the first half, which gave Boro the advantage their vast superiority at that stage deserved.

Yet after the break Wanderers improved hugely by closing down the vast swathes of space they had offered the home side early on.

They had chances to level before Britt Assombalonga wrapped up the Boro win with virtually the last kick of the game.

It’s 10 years since Wanderers had any joy in this neck of the woods. Back in 2008 Gary Megson managed to win here twice but since 2008 it has been five straight defeats and only one goal.

The Riverside is in danger of becoming as famously inhospitable as Pride Park or Portman Road, which just happens to be where Parkinson’s side are heading next.

Middlesbrough had themselves been looking to right a wrong. Defeat at Norwich on Saturday was their first of the season but at no stage in the first 45 minutes did it look like Tony Pulis’s side would encounter the same problems.

Much was down to the defensive outlook shown by Bolton from the first whistle.

With Josh Magennis looking an isolated presence up front, it was difficult for most of the first half to see where the midfield started and defence ended.

Aptly, in the birthplace of Captain Cook, it became patently obvious endeavour would be Wanderers’ only hope.

Storm Ali had wreaked havoc in Scotland and northern England and made for blustery conditions near the Tees. Once Boro had got to grips with the unpredictable nature of the ball, Jonny Howson was able to assume control and pretty much run the game at his own pace.

Overlapping full-backs George Friend and Ryan Shotton got plenty of space, invited on by a Bolton formation which lacked any actual wingers to track back. But up to the half-hour mark the home side had failed to translate their vastly superior possession into opportunities.

Just as you thought Wanderers were starting to frustrate their hosts, they were forced into a reshuffle. Jack Hobbs had been having a sound Championship debut until he picked up a nasty head injury, which forced him back down the tunnel.

No sooner had Marc Wilson arrived to replace him, Boro took the lead.

There was no more experienced head on the field than Gary O’Neil, which made his decision to pass back to Ben Alnwick through a sea of bodies on 35 minutes all the more bizarre.

Wanderers had hardly cleared a corner when the experienced midfielder’s pass bounced off team-mate Mark Beevers and into the path of Saville, who buried the chance into the bottom corner.

Jordan Hugill and Martin Braithwaite went close to adding a second as Boro continued to attack at will.

Parkinson decided not to change anything at the break and though the second half began with Saville volleying over the top, Wanderers did at least create a meaningful opportunity when Pawel Olkowski’s run popped the ball up for Jonathan Grounds, who skewed a right-footed effort wide.

Bolton suddenly upped a gear. After Magennis had put an overhead kick off-target, Josh Vela then had a golden opportunity as Grounds’ cross was deflected into his path. Sadly, his shot lacked conviction.

Wanderers got a bit of good luck when Aiden Flint had a goal chalked off for offside. The big defender tucked in Friend’s cross at the far post but looked to have been played onside by a touch by Magennis.

But they continued to fancy their chances going forward, too, led by the rampaging Olkowski on the right.

A great move involving Grounds and Joe Williams on the left presented a chance for Magennis but the Northern Irishman’s shot was deflected wide by Daniel Ayala.

Parkinson threw on Erhun Oztumer and Yanic Wildschut in an effort to capitalise on his side’s new-found confidence.

Boro could have made the game completely safe. Sub Assombalonga was denied by an excellent goal-saving challenge from David Wheater and Flint headed just wide from the resulting corner.

Hugill wasted another chance to put the result beyond doubt in the closing stages. Had Wanderers snatched something at that stage there would have been an almighty steward’s enquiry in the home dressing room.

As it happened, Assombalonga raced on to a long ball in injury time to wrap the game up completely.

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