Middlesbrough 2-0 Bolton: George Saville, Britt Assombalonga score at the Riverside
George Saville scores for Boro on his first start
Last Updated: 19/09/18 11:01pm
Middlesbrough reclaimed second place in the Sky Bet Championship table as George Saville's first-half strike and a stoppage-time finish from Britt Assombalonga secured a 2-0 win over Bolton.
Tony Pulis' side returned to winning ways with a routine win at the Riverside, after suffering their first defeat of the season at Norwich last weekend.
Saville's first goal in a Middlesbrough shirt set them on their way, with the Northern Ireland international sweeping home shortly after the half-hour mark after Gary O'Neil's dreadful backpass played the Bolton defence into trouble.
The visitors never looked like getting back on level terms, and Assombalonga settled things when he broke away to score in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Pulis opted to ring the changes in the wake of Saturday's setback in Norfolk, switching to a flat back four instead of the five-man defence he had been fielding in recent games.
The Boro boss also handed Jordan Hugill a first league start in place of Assombalonga, and the hosts spent most of the first half trying to feed the ball in to the West Ham loanee.
As the opening period wore on, Boro gradually became more threatening. Hugill thought he should have had a penalty when he went down under a challenge from Mark Beevers, then Jonny Howson twisted past his marker before firing over from 25 yards.
Stewart Downing's long-range strike was blocked, but former Middlesbrough midfielder O'Neil attempted a dreadful pass to his own goalkeeper which instead struck David Wheater. The ball broke kindly for Saville and the summer signing swept home his first goal since he joined on loan from Millwall in the summer.
The goal added an extra spring to Middlesbrough's step, and only a smart save from Ben Alnwick prevented the home side doubling their lead after an overlapping Ryan Shotton drilled in a low strike.
In the early stages of the second half, former Middlesbrough full-back Jonathan Grounds found himself in an inviting position when Pawel Olkowski's blocked shot broke to him on the corner of the penalty area - but he was unable to prevent his drive sailing over the crossbar.
That was a difficult opportunity, but the visitors spurned a much better one on the hour mark. Grounds' deflected shot fell nicely for Josh Vela, but the striker could only direct a tame side-footed effort straight at goalkeeper Darren Randolph when he should really have scored.
Assombalonga came off the bench late on, and when Marc Wilson failed to deal with a late long ball, the substitute galloped clear to score.
Tony Pulis: "I thought we played really well in the first half, but we've got to make sure that we take our chances and the opportunities we get. When we're in the final third, we've got to make sure that the passing and decision-making is better.
"There were two opportunities in the first and second half when we could have played the ball across the goal, but people have shot. If they'd played the ball across the goal, there was someone there who could have tapped it into the net. We have people shooting when they can play people in, and for all that we do well, we need people to really be composed in that final third. The opportunities were there today."
Phil Parkinson: "It's been a tough couple of days for us all. But we're professionals, and we have to get on with it. Looking at the second half, I thought we deserved to get something. Middlesbrough have probably spent more money than anyone else in the division, but we equipped ourselves well, contained them and I'm just disappointed with the first goal because we've gifted it to them and that knocked us.
"We were great in the second half, terrific, and probably deserved to get a bit back. We threw David Wheater up front and threw caution to the wind, so I'm not too bothered about the second goal, but there were a lot of positives and some good performances."