Gardner cultivates Manchester City's away worries
Bolton Wanderers 2 Manchester City 0
The impatient Bolton supporters who had been clamouring for manager Gary Megson's head found themselves obliged to change their tune after substitute Ricardo Gardner condemned Manchester City to a fourth Premier League away defeat and earned Wanderers a first win in four matches.
Gardner scored his first goal of the season after 77 minutes and forced an own goal by City captain Richard Dunne two minutes from the end of normal time as the expensively-assembled visitors confirmed manager Mark Hughes's assertion that his team remains a work in progress.
Megson, who has struggled to win over the Reebok Stadium crowd despite staving off relegation last season, was subjected to an intense barracking after last Wednesday's home defeat to Everton. Yet his players responded with a fiercely determined performance that, in the end, was properly rewarded.
Their goals increased the tally conceded by City to 18 in 11 league games, which is a clear reflection of defensive shortcomings that have led Hughes to tinker so much that he has already used nine players in no fewer than 16 combinations in an almost constantly rotating back four.
The latest saw Pablo Zabaleta return from suspension at right-back, with Micah Richards hoping to impress the watching Fabio Capello from the left-back berth he occupied in the midweek defeat at Middlesbrough.
It was not a role in which he looked comfortable, although it became easier towards the end of the first half when a robust challenge by Dunne effectively removed Mustapha Riga, who had been looking lively on the Bolton right.
That a Wanderers player should fall victim in this way was somewhat ironic given the physical power the home side sought to impose on their more aesthetically inclined opponents. Moreover, there was an extra twist – Riga's replacement was Gardner.
City will argue that the outcome might have been different had Jussi Jaaskelainen not pulled off a number of excellent saves before Bolton took control. The goalkeeper narrowed the angles to defy Stephen Ireland and Ched Evans in the first half then kept out a Shaun Wright-Phillips header and, early in the second half, a curling shot by Robinho.
Bolton felt they should have had a penalty 18 minutes into the second period when Dunne's lunge sent Matt Taylor tumbling and perhaps it was that sense of injustice that inspired their decisive effort in the final quarter. It was rewarded with 13 minutes left when Taylor dispossessed Robinho deep inside the Bolton half and set off a counter-attack that culminated in Gardner slamming home Gretar Steinsson's low cross as City looked in vain for an offside flag.
It was a blow compounded after 88 minutes in another Bolton counter-attack as Gardner's attempt to find Kevin Davies with a driven cross from the left was turned into his own net by Dunne.
Goals: Gardner (77) 1-0; Dunne og (88) 2-0.
Bolton Wanderers (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, A O'Brien, Samuel; Riga (Gardner 43), Muamba, McCann, Nolan, Taylor; Davies. Substitutes not used: Al Habsi (gk), Shittu, Hunt, Smolarek, Helguson, Basham.
Manchester City (4-1-2-1-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Ben-Haim, Dunne, Richards; Kompany; Ireland, Elano; Wright-Phillips; Evans, Robinho. Substitutes not used: Schmeichel (gk), Onuoha, Garrido, Hamann, Fernandes, Caicedo, Sturridge.
Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).
Booked: Bolton Jaaskelainen; Manchester City Zabaleta.
Man of the match: Gardner.