Belfast Telegraph

Bolton's basement escape is new high, claims Nolan

Middlesbrough 0 Bolton Wanderers 1

That Gary Megson could mention Belgrade and Munich after victory at Middlesbrough was a reminder that this has been a rare old season for Bolton Wanderers.

One aspect is that it is Megson's first at the club, in fact he has not even reached six months since replacing Sammy Lee, and the effects of the changing and chopping, losing in the league while touring Europe, has not been lost on those who are accustomed to Bolton rather longer than their current manager.

Kevin Nolan has been at the club since his schooldays in Liverpool. He will be 26 in June and this is his eighth season in the first team. Along the way he saw Sam Allardyce transform a best-days-behind-them yo-yo club into one with four consecutive top-eight finishes in the world's richest league. And then into Europe.

Nolan made his debut in front of 15,000 at the Reebok in a second-tier match, so he knows the scale of the journey. Natural post-match euphoria must be taken into account when a vital game has just been won, but after Gavin McCann's goal just past the hour had given Bolton three precious points, lifting them out of the bottom three, Nolan had this to say about what Premier League survival would mean.

"Bearing in mind we lost our manager [Allardyce, Lee], we sold our top scorer [Nicolas Anelka], lost our goalkeeper [Jussi Jaaskelainen], and our centre forward [Kevin Davies] was out today, this would be the biggest achievement that we have ever had at Bolton.

"It has got to be, because when Sam Allardyce went we were not just losing Sam Allardyce we were losing the foundation of what he had built and what he was aiming for. Then so much changed. We have gone from being one of the most stable clubs in the country to one of swap and change and all these changes have gone on in such a short space of time.

"This would eclipse qualifying for Europe," Nolan added. "Staying in the Premier League is going to be massive for us, like it was the first time when we stayed in after getting promoted [in 2001]. If we do, it will give us that extra time to stabilise and rebuild for the future. This result is up there with the 2-1 win [also over Boro] on the last day of the [2002-03] season when we managed to stay up when West Ham went down with 42 points.

"The year before that we stayed up beating Ipswich 4-1; and the League Cup semi-final when we got to the final [in 2004]. Great days, but that has gone. This is a new era. Hopefully survival is the first part of it. Next season you will see a different Bolton and we won't be in a scrap."

Impressive, and not the first Bolton oration of the day. Nolan said the first had come in the 10th minute just after Jaaskelainen's stand-in, Ali Al-Habsi, has made his third accomplished save. Middlesbrough were fast, inventive and threatening, the opposite of Bolton.

But Nolan shouted, Boro faded and at half-time Megson was able to say Fulham were losing and Reading had already lost. Out of the dressing room came a different Bolton. McCann had been hapless in the first half, in the second he was everywhere, including the right place to score the winner.

Now it is a trip to Tottenham, followed by Sunderland at home and Chelsea on the last day. Not easy.

Boro, four points and two places ahead, are not safe either and confidence is seeping away. So, too, locally is patience. Manager Gareth Southgate could do with a victory at Sunderland on Saturday.

Goal: McCann (61) 0-1.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Turnbull; Young, Wheater, Pogatetz, A Taylor (Rochemback, 74); Aliadière, Boateng, Arca, Downing; Alves, Tuncay (Johnson, 63). Substitutes not used: Steele (gk), Grounds, Shawky

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Al-Habsi; Steinsson, Cahill, A O'Brien, Samuel; Campo; Cohen (Guthrie, h-t), McCann, Nolan, M Taylor; Rasiak (Diouf, 55). Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Fojut, Stelios.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Booked: Bolton Steinsson, Campo.

Man of the match: Al-Habsi.

Attendance: 25,037

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