Leeds United 2 Bolton Wanderers 1: Mirco Antenucci double brings relief for beleaguered chief Steve Evans

THE symbolism of a coffin being paraded outside Elland Road before kick-off probably will not have been lost upon Steve Evans.

Striker Mirco Antenucci celebrates his second goal against basement club Bolton Wanderers at Elland Road (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).

As Leeds United’s weather-worn supporters cranked up their protests against owner Massimo Cellino – and even took to the air to display their displeasure at the sad demise of a venerable footballing institution – Evans’s self-preservation instincts kicked in.

The streetwise Scot, from a council estate near Glasgow, arrived at LS11 with his managerial tenure on the precipice.

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He did not need to be told twice what the consequences of defeat against the Championship’s bottom club would most likely be.

Evans, who has always talked a good game, knew the time for talking was over and it did not need a missive from Cellino to indicate that.

Bolton were the opposition against whom Evans strode out to lead Leeds in his first weekend engagement in charge of the club on October 24 and he did not fancy this return being his last supper.

Given United’s travails on the pitch, it was always likely that events would be tense, and so it proved.

Evans ended the game in debt to an Italian, Mirco Antenucci, whose first goals at Elland Road since September 12 ensured that the United chief avoided something resembling the Ides of March. For now, at any rate.

A mock funeral ahead of kick-off there may have been, but the managerial patient that is Evans remains alive and kicking.

Antenucci’s penalty in the corresponding fixture in the autumn salvaged something tangible in the shape of a point, but the importance of his brace on Saturday was evident.

On a day when the relegation-haunted trio of Charlton Athletic, Rotherham United and MK Dons all won, United’s first victory in six Championship matches was timely for all manner of reasons.

It was not pretty, but it was never going to be an Oscar contender.

Antenucci’s opener on 39 minutes was predatory and his game-clinching second was a touch more sublime. His sweet curler was a rewind to some more favourable times for the forward.

As for his future – with his United deal up in the summer – he is philosophical, which is perhaps just as well.

It seems a case of ‘let’s just live in the moment’ and it certainly pays to do so at Leeds.

On Saturday’s relieving win for all and sundry after those desperate events at Brighton on Monday night, Antenucci said: “I am happy, of course. We needed this victory and now we have to keep going to the end of the season.

“It’s very good to put the difficult performance behind us, mentally as a team. It’s a big result for everyone, for our ranking and for our fans.

“In football, the gaffer is under pressure every time. We have to keep calm and work every day and this is the solution.”

On his own future, he equivocally added: “I don’t know because I wait until someone calls me. I have to finish the season good.

“There are a lot of rumours about me, but I would like to finish the season as it’s a pleasure playing for this stadium and club and after that I think to the future.

“I want to finish the season well and if someone from the club calls me, we talk.

“I had difficult moments and sometimes, I didn’t play. In January, there were a lot of rumours about me.

“Clubs called me, but I don’t like to leave halfway through the season.”

After a disgraceful collective performance on the south coast, United and their in-the-dock manager had matters to attend to, with Bolton’s arrival representing both an opportunity, given their debilitating travel sickness, and also a danger.

Defeat would have been beyond the pale and while there were some fraught moments at the finish, United found a way.

Home supporters arrived with not much hope, never mind expectation, with attendance for many being carried out due to a sense of duty.

Proceedings in the first half were moribund, with the one pertinent development yielding a home opener.

A corner from Muzzy Carayol, who had earlier tested Paul Rachubka with United’s only threatening moment, was headed on by Liam Cooper and Antenucci converted neatly.

United, who saw Lewie Coyle stretchered off midway through the first period, were scratchy, with Bolton going close through Liam Feeney, and Cooper cleared off the line just before the interval after Marco Silvestri got himself in a flap following a cross from Feeney.

Things did not improve on the restart, but a lovely curler just after the hour from Antenucci, after Rob Holding cut out his intended pass to Souleymane Doukara, broke the tedium.

Substitute Kaiyne Woolery’s neat strike 16 minutes from time set up an anxious finale, but Leeds held out. Unconvincing, but needs must.