Bolton 4 Middlesbrough 1
Middlesbrough’s relegation woes increased as they were hit for four goals by Bolton at the Reebok Stadium to drift five points adrift of safety.
Kevin Davies put the hosts ahead with his 12th league goal of the season in only the eighth minute, only for Gary O’Neil to equalise seven minutes before half-time.
However, Gary Cahill fired home close to half-time before Matt Taylor and Ricardo Gardner added late goals, and with Blackburn and Stoke both winning the Teessiders face a daunting task if they are to survive with seven matches remaining.
Their away form is costing them dearly as this was their ninth successive defeat on the road, their worst run since the Second World War.
History suggested they would not get much at the Reebok, where they have not beaten Bolton in the Premier League.
Defensive lapses were the problem as, having got themselves back on level terms shortly before half-time, they handed the initiative back to Wanderers and never regained it.
Bolton have scored most of their goals this season in the first half of matches and it took just eight minutes for them to open their account.
Gardner was allowed to break free down the left all too easily by Matthew Bates, and when he curled a teasing cross into the six-yard box Emanuel Pogatetz failed to make a decisive move and Davies stabbed home his 12th league goal of the season.
After Danny Shittu’s early booking, O’Neil should have been cautioned for going in late on Gavin McCann but he escaped with just a warning.
Robert Huth’s foul on Davies 25 yards from goal gave Matt Taylor the perfect shooting opportunity in the 16th minute and Brad Jones had to be a full-stretch to tip over the free-kick.
Jones was certainly the busier goalkeeper and had to sprint out to just nick the ball away before the charging Gardner reached it in the penalty area in the 23rd minute.
Jussi Jaaskelainen was finally forced into a save when David Wheater’s deflected shot looped up and almost dropped over the Bolton goalkeeper.
Middlesbrough seemed desperately short of confidence and ideas and this was obviously apparent to the visiting fans, who began chanting attack, attack, attack on the half-hour.
Fabrice Muamba should have made it 2-0 but duffed his close-range shot from Cahill’s cross and they were almost made to pay when Afonso Alves’ nonchalant 25-yard free-kick rebounded back of a post with Jaaskelainen rooted to his line.
The injured Pogatetz was then replaced by Andrew Taylor before Middlesbrough equalised in the 38th minute.
Alves knocked the ball down to Tuncay Sanli on the edge of the penalty area and he threaded a pass through to O’Neil who slotted home.
But a minute before the interval Cahill restored the lead, firing home from close range after Johan Elmander had brought down Matt Taylor’s free-kick.
Tuncay, playing as the support striker after the break with Aliadiere moved to the right of midfield, twice volleyed wide in the opening 10 minutes of the half as Boro pressed for another equaliser.
Between those two efforts Matt Taylor’s driven free-kick dropped to Elmander but with time in the penalty area he took a wild swipe and blazed over.
Tuncay looked Boro’s biggest threat and he volleyed wide for a third time from Alves’ knockdown at a corner.
Jaaskelainen came to Bolton’s rescue in the 71st minute when he raced out to block Alves’ shot after Gretar Steinsson’s back-pass had fallen woefully short.
Jones was then almost caught out as Matt Taylor’s floated effort almost crept under his crossbar, the goalkeeper just getting back in time to tip over.
But the midfielder got his goal his ninth of the campaign when an inswinging free-kick from the right touchline sailed over the defence and in at the far post with Jones motionless.
And there was more misery for the visitors as Gardner controlled Matt Taylor’s left-wing cross to add a fourth five minutes from time.