Jordan Rhodes’ stoppage-time winner gave Sky Bet Championship leaders Middlesbrough their sixth straight victory as they beat already-relegated Bolton 2-1 at the Macron Stadium.
Boro were trailing to the club propping up the division when Josh Vela scored but after Rhodes levelled in the 73rd minute, Boro mustered another late winner for the second time in five days, this time through their £9million striker.
When they kicked off last Saturday, Boro were trailing Burnley by four points but three successive wins meant they have put five points between themselves and the Clarets ahead of their trip to Birmingham on Saturday afternoon, with second-placed Brighton now four points off the pace.
It also means that Aitor Karanka’s side have still not dropped points since the Spaniard returned to the dugout following a training-ground walk-out in March that had threatened to derail their season.
Bolton, who started the day 56 points below their visitors, were as long as 12-1 with certain bookmakers before the game, and the title-chasing visitors did much of the early running.
Adam Forshaw was rewarded with a start having scored the injury-time winner that sent Boro top in midweek and he almost struck inside a minute with a shot which went over the top.
Rhodes somehow completely missed Albert Adomah’s enticing cross, Daniel Ayala nodded over from a corner and Stewart Downing then rattled the crossbar with an attempt from almost 30 yards that came down and bounced away from Ben Amos’ line.
Despite their predicament, Wanderers have only been beaten by more than one goal at home once this term and they were posing threats themselves with a couple of dangerous balls across the six-yard box from Zach Clough and Darren Pratley.
Clough will be one of the players Bolton are keen to hang on to when they reshape their squad this summer and he showed why with a run from inside his own half which resulted in Mark Davies back-heeling straight at Dimi Konstantopoulos.
After Clough had landed a curling effort on to the roof of the net, Rhodes headed straight at Amos and Ritchie de Laet blazed Emilio Nsue’s lay-off over to draw a goalless first half to a close.
Just 12 minutes after the resumption Karanka decided to bring on Gaston Ramirez, yet he was unable to make an instant impact as the hosts grabbed the lead.
Niall Maher’s long throw was nodded on by Middlesbrough’s Adam Clayton and Emile Heskey was able to roll the ball back for Vela to sweep in his second goal of the campaign.
There was little evidence that Boro were going to get back into the game but they did exactly that with 17 minutes to go as Rhodes levelled.
From Forshaw’s right-wing cross, Rhodes’ initial header was blocked by David Wheater but, with Amos having already committed to the attempt, the Boro striker was able to roll home a simple finish when the ball came back to him.
Four minutes later the visitors should have been ahead as De Laet’s cross was volleyed over six yards out by Ramirez, who was unable to keep the ball down when reaching for a delivery that was slightly behind him.
Karanka finally introduced David Nugent with three minutes to go and his arrival proved pivotal.
Rhodes had already gone close to a winner twice, directing one header narrowly wide before hitting the post with an overhead kick, and the Scotland international then glanced home a Nugent cross at the back post to keep Boro’s title charge on track ahead of a trip to Burnley on Tuesday.
Aitor Karanka claimed he was always confident Middlesbrough’s season would get back on track.
“We had lost games in January, February and March because we had players leaving and important players injured in difficult moments,” Karanka explained.
“It was difficult to manage that situation and we lost games. Those games were games when we thought we were going to win easy. We lost those games, we made mistakes and we knew that after Hull - the most important part of the season - we had to be ready.
“One month ago I said I was much, much calmer than I was last season because I had a much better squad than I had last season; we are more mature, they are stronger and the fixtures are better than we had last season.”
Bolton: Amos, Maher, Holding, Wheater, Moxey, Pratley, Osede,
Vela, Clough, Heskey, Davies. Subs: Rachubka, Trotter, Danns,
Dobbie, Twardzik, Woolery, Threlkeld.
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, De Laet, Ayala, Gibson, Friend,
Clayton, Forshaw, Nsue, Downing, Adomah, Rhodes. Subs:
Leadbitter, De Pena, Mejias, De Sart, Ramirez, Kalas, Nugent.
Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire)
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