Ashley Fletcher brace helps Middlesbrough end seven-game winless run
Ashley Fletcher scored two first-half goals against his boyhood club as Middlesbrough ended six successive defeats with a 2-0 Sky Bet Championship victory at relegation-haunted Bolton.
Tony Pulis’ side could not have wished to face better opponents after a seven-game winless streak in a bid to revive their floundering play-off ambitions.
Fletcher, whose double took his season’s goal tally to nine struck after 16 and 28 minutes.
His second was the first time Boro had managed two goals in a game since beating QPR 2-0 on February 23.
Middlesbrough, who have now won eight successive league games against the Trotters dating back to August 2014, made a promising start.
Fletcher served warning of what was to follow with a rasping 20-yard drive that narrowly flew over Remi Matthews’ crossbar.
Three successive corners put Wanderers’ defence under further pressure and while they momentarily managed to repel the visiting threat, it was not long before Boro took control.
Bolton’s defending left much to be desired in the build-up to provide the opening and when a ricochet landed at Fletcher’s feet from Britt Assombalonga’s blocked shot he finished well from 10 yards.
His second 13 minutes later was much more pleasing on the eye as Wanderers were caught with men forward, including centre half David Wheater after a corner.
Mo Besic provided a neat assist and Fletcher did the rest, curling a right-foot shot into the net from 12 yards.
The goalscorer could not believe the freedom he was now being afforded. A left-foot attempt from the edge of the box grazed the outside of Matthews’ upright.
Then played in by Assombalonga’s astute ball, Fletcher forced a flying save from Matthews only for a linesman’s flag to signal offside.
There was nothing going the other way to trouble Darren Randolph, summed up by a wild swing and shot from youngster Luca Connell just before half-time.
Wanderers forced a couple of corners early in the second half and Mark Beevers headed wide as Randolph remained a spectator.
Assombalonga began the game with six goals in four league appearances against the Trotters and twice in three minutes he had opportunities to add to that tally.
Inexplicably though with only Matthews to beat the former Nottingham Forest striker went for an audacious chip which missed the target.
Jonny Howson then played in his team-mate for another chance. Again Assombalonga went for another chip but fluffed his lines once more though his blushes were saved by a linesman’s flag for offside.
Middlesbrough though won at a canter and at no time came close to surrendering their advantage.
Matthews saved from Howson’s long-range drive and it was not until two minutes from time when Sammy Ameobi finally forced Randolph into his first save.