Report: Middlesbrough 3-0 Bolton
Bolton Wanderers were well-beaten in their first away trip of the 2015/16 Sky Bet Championship season against Middlesbrough on Saturday.
Starting slowly at The Riverside Stadium, the Whites found themselves behind early on after Diego Fabbrini beat Ben Amos from 30 yards, before Kike fired home a brace before the break to give the scoreline a convincing feel.
Emile Heskey shot wide after the interval but that was the closest Bolton came as they returned home having suffered a heavy defeat.
Emile Heskey was handed his first start of the season as Neil Lennon made three changes to the side that faced Burton Albion in midweek.
Prince-Desire Gouano and Jay Spearing were both recalled following injury and suspension respectively, while Rob Holding was also handed his Wanderers league debut.
Meanwhile, Mark Davies retained the captain’s armband in the continued absence of Darren Pratley.
Spurred on by a deafening home crowd, Middlesbrough started brightly and forced Ben Amos into an opening save inside the opening two minutes.
Controlling Albert Adomah’s cross at the far post, Stewart Downing cut inside to beat Josh Vela before powering a shot at the near post, which was palmed away by the former Manchester United goalkeeper.
The hosts went close again moments later as George Friend cut in from the left, before curling a long-range effort inches wide of Amos’ far post.
However, Wanderers found themselves behind from Boro’s very next attack as Diego Fabbrini thundered an unstoppable 30-yard drive past Amos into the top left-hand corner.
Initially responding well to falling behind, Dean Moxey had the Whites’ first shot on goal soon after as he connected with Prince’s cross with a diving header, only to see his effort drift wide.
But despite the opening, it proved to be a rare chance for Bolton inside the opening quarter as they soon found themselves two goals behind as goalscorer turned provider for Middlesbrough.
Stealing possession on the edge of the area, Fabbrini looked up before playing in Kike, who calmly slotted beneath Amos to double Aitor Karanka’s side’s lead.
Amos stood tall to deny Boro a third moments later as the keeper kept out Adomah’s close-range strike after Fabbrini’s initial effort had deflected kindly into the winger’s path.
Another fine save from Amos prevented Kike from extending Middlesbrough’s lead further after the forward again found space inside the area – prompting a tactical change from the Trotters switched to four at the back with Josh Vela pushing forward into midfield.
But despite initially stemming the Boro attacking threat, a huge deflection on a long-range Fabbrini shot resulted in the hosts making it 3-0 shortly after the half-hour mark.
Although caught off-guard by the Italian’s strike, Amos somehow got back to tip the goalbound effort onto the bar.
However, Kike was cruelly on hand to convert a simple tap-in to put Middlesbrough fully in control of the match.
The Spaniard had Moxey to curse for not being able to claim a hat-trick from Boro’s next attack as the full-back twice threw his body on the line to block powerful efforts from the forward inside the box.
At the other end, Emile Heskey picked out Rob Holding on the edge of area, but the league debutant was unable to beat the first man with his shot on goal with what was a rare opening for the Whites.
Middlesbrough captain Grant Leadbitter caressed the crossbar with another fierce strike from distance as the hosts looked to extend their lead further in the dying embers of the half.
But mercifully there was to be no increase to Boro’s lead at the break as Bolton went in with a mountain to climb.
Zach Clough was introduced at the interval in place of Jay Spearing as Neil Lennon made an attacking change in a bid to reduce the deficit.
However, Middlesbrough picked up where they left off and were unfortunate not to net their fourth of the afternoon moments after the restart as Downing dragged a first-time effort narrowly wide.
Boro continued to catch the Trotters on the counter-attack with Amos twice required to race off his line to boot clear with Downing and Kike looking to burst through.
Despite looking vulnerable at the back, Clough was proving to have the desired effect in attack, showing quick-feet to win a number of set-pieces in attacking positions while also combining well with captain Mark Davies.
Amos was called into action once more by Kike as the forward continued to test the Wanderers back-line.
Increasingly involved, Clough was unfortunate not to claw a goal back for the Whites after seeing a first-time effort deflect narrowly wide following a clever one-two with Heskey.
Heskey came close to netting a consolation himself soon after after connecting with Moxey’s low cross, only for his side-footed to drift off-target.
Seeing more of the ball, Tom Walker and Lawrie Wilson were introduced to the action as Bolton continued to frustrate Middlesbrough as the half wore on.
But despite their improved defensive efforts, the Trotters were unable to make a breakthrough at the other end as they were left cursing their slow start come the final whistle.