MIDDLESBROUGH boss Aitor Karanka said his side secured a much-needed three points against Bolton despite producing “one of the worst performances” of his Riverside reign.
Albert Adomah’s first-half strike ensured Boro got back to winning ways after last weekend’s surprise home defeat to Leeds, and remained within two points of Sky Bet Championship leaders Derby.
However, with Patrick Bamford spurning a succession of chances to extend the Teessiders’ advantage, Karanka was far from happy with his team’s performance.
The Spaniard was ruing his luck after Saturday’s impressive showing against Leeds brought no reward, but while he was grateful for a win to remain in the automatic promotion places, he will be demanding a marked improvement when Boro travel to Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend.
Karanka said: “Four days ago, I was saying we had played one of our best games and lost (against Leeds). Today, we have played one of our worst games since I have been here, but we have won.
“The important thing is that we have won three more points. We will have to analyse the game because I cannot really explain anything now.
“The good thing is the three points, but it’s difficult for me to understand what happened because I didn’t really recognise some of my players.
“We have fixed one part of our mistakes, and that is the defensive errors. But now we have to fix the attacking mistakes as well because it is not possible to finish the games with a win when we have problems like this.
“We have had four or five clear chances to score and not taken them. The defensive mistakes have been fixed, and that is important. But now we also need to improve our attacking.”
Ryan Fredericks’ nervous early back-pass almost afforded Emile Heskey a clear run on goal, and Bolton centre-half Dorian Dervite should really have done better when he headed Barry Bannon’s free-kick over the crossbar from an inviting position in the penalty area.
It took Boro half an hour to construct a threatening attacking move, but it was worth the wait as Tomlin’s delightful back-heel enabled Grant Leadbitter to supply Bamford through the middle.
The striker’s prodded shot was saved by the outstretched boot of Bolton goalkeeper Ben Amos, but the hosts appeared to be energised by their rare foray into the area, and four minutes later they were ahead.
Tomlin was the architect again, threading a delightful ball between Dervite and David Wheater to release Adomah through the middle. The winger had gone 20 games without scoring, but showed no signs of nerves as a slotted a calm finish past Amos.
Suddenly, Boro were firmly on the front foot, and they would have doubled their lead in first-half stoppage time had their leading scorer, Bamford, not displayed some rare rustiness in the six-yard box.
A scramble in the penalty area ended with Adomah prodding the ball into his path, but he blazed over from close range with the goal seemingly at his mercy.
He was similarly wasteful nine minutes into the second half, sweeping a shot wide of the right post after George Friend’s tenacity teed him up in the area.
Bolton’s attacking threat was largely restricted to set-pieces, but neither Heskey nor fellow veteran Eidur Gudjohnsen were able to test Boro goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos with headers from second-half corners.
Tomlin almost doubled Boro’s lead with a minute remaining, but his curled free-kick rebounded off the crossbar with Amos beaten.
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Fredericks, Kalas, Gibson, Friend, Leadbitter, Clayton, Reach (Forshaw 76), Tomlin, Adomah, Bamford (Kike 76). Subs Not Used: Whitehead, Carayol, Omeruo, Wildschut, Mejias. Booked: Garcia. Goals: Adomah 34.
Bolton: Amos, Vela, Wheater, Dervite, Moxey, Janko (Le Fondre 83), Danns, Bannan, Feeney, Gudjohnsen (Clough 71), Heskey. Subs Not Used: Twardzik, Fitzsimons, Threlkeld, Slavchev, Walker. Booked: Vela, Dervite, Janko, Danns, Heskey.
Att: 16,569 Ref: Andrew Madley (West Yorkshire).