Two goals from Mirco Antenucci earned Leeds United a valuable three points as they beat relegation candidates Bolton Wanderers 2-1 at Elland Road.
Antenucci had not scored since the Huddersfield game on November 7, but netted in each half with fine finishes to ease the pressure on head coach Steve Evans following a run of one win in 11 matches for the Whites.
The Leeds side showed three changes from the team that lost at Brighton with Giuseppe Bellusci back at centre-half instead of Sol Bamba and Mustapha Carayol and Mirco Antenucci returning to the starting line-up with Scott Wootton and Alex Mowatt left out.
It took United 28 minutes to get their first shot on target, a 20-yard effort by Carayol that was tipped wide by former Leeds keeper Paul Rachubka.
In a lively start, though, Antenucci got a dangerous low cross in early on that just eluded striker partner Souleymane Doukara and Antenucci miskicked when well placed just inside the box to meet a low pull back by Lewie Coyle following a good build-up involving Doukara.
Bolton had the first effort on target as Jay Spearing saw his low 20-yard shot well held by home keeper Marco Silvestri. They also went close when Liam Feeney got in behind Coyle only to see his angled shot well saved by Silvestri. The follow-up shot was then scuffed wide by Spearing.
Leeds lost Coyle on 22 minutes when he was stretchered off after appearing to twist in a 50-50 tackle on the touchline. Gaetano Berardi came on to replace the young right-back.
They did begin to exert some more pressure, however, with Liam Cooper heading wide after the ball was played back in following a corner that had gone over everyone’s head.
From another corner on 39 minutes Leeds went ahead as Cooper flicked the ball on and Antenucci showed sharpness and ingenuity to flick the ball into the net from close range.
A similar flick three minutes later almost brought a second goal from a Charlie Taylor cross, but it stayed 1-0 to half-time with Cooper clearing off the line just before the break after Silvestri had lost the ball in coming for a cross.
That proved the last action for centre-back Cooper as he was taken off injured at the break, to be replaced by Bamba.
Leeds were initially pushed back as Bolton looked for an equaliser and Derik Osede fired over in the box after a corner had not been cleared.
But the hosts doubled their lead just after the hour mark when Antenucci was sent clear down the left. He failed to find the unmarked Doukara with a poor cross, but when the ball came straight back to him the Italian striker curled a beauty into the corner of the net from an angle.
A minute later the more confident Whites surged forward again and Carayol’s 20-yard shot needed saving at two attempts by Rachubka.
Just when it was looking comfortable, however, Bolton hit back with a goal on 74 minutes as the ball dropped kindly for sub Kaiyne Woolery in the box and after a good bit of control he beat Silvestri with his shot to bring about a nervy finish.
Bolton pushed for an equaliser, but Zach Clough hit a 20-yard shot wide and Liam Trotter headed their last chance wide.
United saw out the game well enough for a win that gives them more breathing space as they look to avoid getting dragged into a relegation fight.
Head coach Steve Evans was relieved with the win and delighted with the response of his players after the poor display at Brighton.
He said: “I am really proud of my players and my staff. We knew it would be tough, but we got a good win.
“It was the most amount of pressure we’ve had to deal with in a build up to a game at Elland Road and we dealt with it.
“I didn’t think we were going to concede because we were defending properly.
“We didn’t have a player out there who didn’t have a steely determination. We have a wonderful team spirit and showed it.”
Leeds United 2
(Antenucci 39, 62)
Bolton Wanderers 1
Saturday, March 5, 2016
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds: Silvestri, Coyle (Berardi 22), Bellusci, Cooper (Bamba 45), Taylor, Carayol (Dallas 79), Diagouraga, Bridcutt, Cook, Doukara, Antenucci.
Bolton: Rachubka, Vela (Trotter 68), Osede, Holding, Moxey, Pratley (Woolery 68), Spearing, Clough (Dobbie 84), Davies, Feeney, Madine.
Referee: Tony Harrington