TONY PULIS was delighted with his Middlesbrough side’s response to their first defeat of the season, but admits his players will have to be more clinical if they are to keep up the pressure at the top of the table.

Having lost at Norwich City four days earlier, Boro returned to winning ways last night as goals from George Saville and Britt Assomablonga secured a 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers.

The win, which featured Boro’s fourth successive league clean sheet at the Riverside, lifted Pulis’ team back up to second position in the Championship table ahead of Saturday’s home game with Swansea City.

The Teessiders rarely looked troubled after Saville broke the deadlock towards the end of the first half, but spurned a succession of chances to put the game to bed before Assombalonga rounded things off in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Their profligacy didn’t prove costly yesterday, but Pulis accepts there could be times when the opposition are not so accommodating if Boro continue to waste chances.

“I thought we played really well in the first half, but we’ve got to make sure that we take our chances and the opportunities we get,” said the Boro boss. “When we’re in the final third, we’ve got to make sure that the passing and decision-making is better.

“There were two opportunities in the first and second half when we could have played the ball across the goal, but people have shot. If they’d played the ball across the goal, there was someone there who could have tapped it into the net.

“We have people shooting when they can play people in, and for all that we do well, we need people to really be composed in that final third. The opportunities were there today.”

Nevertheless, Pulis was happy to see his players digging deep to defend their lead when Bolton briefly threatened to rally in the closing stages.

Aden Flint and Daniel Ayala were their usual dominant selves as they helped ensure their side are still to concede a league goal at home this season, with Ryan Shotton and George Friend proving similarly resolute in the full-back berths.

“We’re going to have lots of games where it’s tight and we have to dig in and really work hard,” he said. “I’ve managed in the Championship for quite a few years, and I don’t think there have been many games where you’ve played and you can relax

“You have to give Bolton credit. They’ve really defended well, throwing bodies in the way in the first half, and then in the second half, for the last 20 minutes, they came out and had a go. One mistake for us or one little bit of fortune for them would have taken away the three points, so you’re on your toes all the time, even at my age.”

That said, however, Pulis felt Boro’s lead would have been much more comfortable if the officials had not made a couple of key decisions in Bolton’s favour.

Referee David Coote opted not to award a penalty when Mark Beevers appeared to bundle over Jordan Hugill in the first half, and Aden Flint saw a second-half effort disallowed for offside when replays suggested the ball had broken in his direction off a Bolton defender.

“We’re obviously delighted with the win and another clean sheet,” said Pulis. “Again, though, there were decisions from the referee (we didn’t agree with). I think the lad’s knee catches Hugill when he’s going through, and then the goal that’s disallowed, he’s (Flint) offside when George shoots, but it actually touches one of their players. As soon as it touches one of their players, he’s onside.”

Bolton have endured an exceptionally difficult week after one of their players, defender Stephen Darby, was forced to retire after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

Trotters boss Phil Parkinson spoke eloquently about Darby’s character and fighting spirit prior to last night’s game, and while his players left the Riverside without any points, he was pleased they had put in a performance their team-mate would have been proud of.

“It’s been a tough couple of days for us all,” said Parkinson. “But we’re professionals, and we have to get on with it.

“I’ve worked with Stephen for a long time, and it was important that we put in a performance that reflected his character. Despite not getting the right result, I thought we did that.”