Welbeck's header proved the difference between the two team
By Andrew McKenzie
Danny Welbeck scored the winner as Sunderland leapfrogged Bolton into sixth place with a hard-earned win.
Welbeck headed home his fifth goal in six games after Jussi Jaaskelainen had denied a Darren Bent shot.
Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon produced a remarkable one-handed save to deny Zat Knight a close-range equaliser.
Welbeck also struck the outside of the post for the home side, while Bolton threatened late on through Gary Cahill and substitute Ivan Klasnic.
Bolton started and finished the stronger of the two sides, with Klasnic in particular guilty of spurning two chances in the dying stages. A draw would have seen Bolton move above Tottenham into fifth, but an inability to keep a clean sheet in the league stretching back to the opening day of the season again proved costly.
Sixth-placed Sunderland delight Bruce
They were denied early on when a Kevin Davies shot hit team-mate Johan Elmander after good work down the left by Matt Taylor.
On the opposite flank, Kieran Richardson created Sunderland's first real opening, bursting into the area and beating Knight, only for Cahill to rescue the Trotters with a last-ditch tackle.
For the second week running, Sunderland boss Steve Bruce was forced into an early defensive reshuffle as John Mensah limped off and Ahmed Elmohamady was again asked to fill in at right-back.
With Anton Ferdinand only passing a late fitness test before the game, the one worry for Bruce will be his rapidly-eroding resources going into a busy Christmas period.
Skipper Lee Cattermole will miss their Boxing Day trip to Old Trafford after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season for a lunge on Stuart Holden.
Cattermole was fortunate to remain on the field when he later caught Elmander with a late tackle early in the second half.
The challenge led to an already overheating Bruce - unhappy with some heavy Bolton challenges - and opposite number Owen Coyle exchanging some less-than-festive words on the touchline.
By then Sunderland had taken the lead through the increasingly influential Welbeck.
The on-loan forward's contribution has been a key reason for the recent resurgence of a Sunderland side previously over-reliant on Bent and Asamoah Gyan for its goals.
Jordan Henderson's cross looked to have been overhit, but Bent stretched out a leg and brilliantly controlled the ball before firing in a shot that Jaaskelainen kept out one-handed, only for Welbeck to head in the rebound.
It came at the end of a promising five-minute spell for Sunderland that saw Gyan denied by a combination of Cahill and Jaaskelainen after he had outfoxed Knight.
But going into the break, Bolton will have considered themselves hugely unfortunate not to be level with Knight denied by a stunning piece of goalkeeping by the recalled Gordon.
Coyle pleased with display despite defeat
Cahill was left unmarked at the back post to head back a Taylor corner into the feet of Knight, but Gordon showed stunning reactions to tip over the bar the defender's side-footed effort from less than five yards out.
Bolton applied plenty of pressure after the break but Sunderland's makeshift back four ably kept Elmander and Davies under wraps and restricted the strike pair - with a combined 14 league goals this season - to only limited sightings on goal.
Welbeck could have made the points safe when Bent miscued in front of goal and his measured side-footed shot sliced the outside of the post.
Klasnic and Cahill were both denied late on, while Sunderland's Bolo Zenden headed wide in a flurry of late chances.
A third consecutive clean sheet for Sunderland, who remain unbeaten at home, sees them go into Christmas with increasing hopes of a European place.
90:00+4:28 The referee blows for the end of the match.
90:00+3:33 The ball is crossed by Rodrigo Moreno, Ivan Klasnic produces a left-footed shot from deep inside the six-yard box which goes
wide of the left-hand upright.
90:00+2:59 Rodrigo Moreno delivers the ball, clearance made by Lee Cattermole.
90:00+0:10 Gary Cahill fouled by Darren Bent, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Samuel Ricketts.
89:00 Jordan Henderson produces a cross, Header by Boudewijn Zenden from deep inside the penalty area misses to the left of the
85:56 Ivan Klasnic takes a shot. Anton Ferdinand gets a block in.
85:13 Paul Robinson takes a shot. Anton Ferdinand gets a block in. Gary Cahill takes a shot. Anton Ferdinand gets a block in. Outswinging
corner taken from the right by-line by Stuart Holden, Lee Cattermole makes a clearance.
84:40 Phillip Bardsley produces a cross, save by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
82:25 Substitution Matthew Taylor goes off and Rodrigo Moreno comes on.
82:25 Substitution Tamir Cohen on for Fabrice Muamba.
81:31 Boudewijn Zenden has a drilled shot. Save by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
81:13 The ball is delivered by Phillip Bardsley, Zat Knight manages to make a clearance.
81:06 The ball is delivered by Kieran Richardson, Zat Knight manages to make a clearance.
80:52 The ball is crossed by Ahmed Elmohamady.
80:03 Stuart Holden fouled by Danny Welbeck, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Samuel Ricketts.
78:55 A cross is delivered by Jordan Henderson, clearance made by Gary Cahill.
78:43 Free kick awarded for a foul by Nedum Onuoha on Ivan Klasnic. Free kick taken by Ivan Klasnic.
77:56 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Anton Ferdinand by Kevin Davies. Direct free kick taken by Craig Gordon.
72:53 Jordan Henderson decides to take the corner short, The ball is crossed by Ahmed Elmohamady, Matthew Taylor manages to make
72:53 Substitution Boudewijn Zenden on for Asamoah Gyan.
72:26 Asamoah Gyan produces a cross, clearance by Gary Cahill.
69:24 Shot by Danny Welbeck from deep inside the penalty box bounces off the post.
68:45 The referee blows for offside against Asamoah Gyan. Free kick taken by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
68:28 The ball is crossed by Matthew Taylor, save by Craig Gordon.
67:17 The ball is sent over by Jordan Henderson, Asamoah Gyan has an effort at goal from the edge of the box that misses to the
right of the target.
66:11 Centre by Matthew Taylor, Kevin Davies has a volleyed shot. Blocked by Anton Ferdinand.
65:58 Ahmed Elmohamady delivers the ball, clearance by Zat Knight.
63:09 Unfair challenge on Asamoah Gyan by Fabrice Muamba results in a free kick. Craig Gordon takes the direct free kick.
63:09 Booking Fabrice Muamba is cautioned.
62:36 Corner taken by Matthew Taylor from the right by-line, Craig Gordon makes a save.
62:06 Substitution Ivan Klasnic comes on in place of Martin Petrov.
61:17 A cross is delivered by Kevin Davies, Ahmed Elmohamady makes a clearance.
60:45 A cross is delivered by Asamoah Gyan.
58:03 Free kick awarded for a foul by Paul Robinson on Darren Bent. Direct effort from the free kick comes in from Kieran Richardson.
56:27 Martin Petrov produces a left-footed shot from long range which goes wide right of the goal.
55:55 A cross is delivered by Martin Petrov. Matthew Taylor delivers the ball, clearance by Ahmed Elmohamady.
55:32 The ball is crossed by Ahmed Elmohamady, Fabrice Muamba makes a clearance.
53:18 Stuart Holden challenges Danny Welbeck unfairly and gives away a free kick. The ball is crossed by Jordan Henderson, Danny
Welbeck takes a shot. Save made by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
53:18 Booking Stuart Holden is booked.
52:31 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Danny Welbeck by Stuart Holden. Jordan Henderson takes the free kick.
51:59 Shot by Johan Elmander. Save made by Craig Gordon.
51:22 Jordan Henderson delivers the ball, save by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
45:01 The referee gets the second half underway.
45:00+3:12 The ref blows to end the first period.
45:00+2:31 Matthew Taylor concedes a free kick for a foul on Phillip Bardsley. Phillip Bardsley restarts play with the free kick.
45:00+1:07 Free kick awarded for a foul by Johan Elmander on Nedum Onuoha. Craig Gordon takes the direct free kick.
44:11 Inswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Matthew Taylor, Zat Knight takes a shot. Craig Gordon makes a fantastic
save. Outswinging corner taken left-footed by Martin Petrov, Headed effort from deep inside the penalty area by Zat Knight
misses to the left of the goal.
42:03 Foul by Johan Elmander on Anton Ferdinand, free kick awarded. Craig Gordon takes the free kick.
40:39 Shot from outside the box by Lee Cattermole misses to the left of the target.
39:18 Free kick awarded for a foul by Lee Cattermole on Stuart Holden. Free kick taken by Paul Robinson.
39:18 Booking The referee cautions Lee Cattermole for unsporting behaviour.
34:13 Asamoah Gyan challenges Paul Robinson unfairly and gives away a free kick. Paul Robinson takes the direct free kick.
33:15 Unfair challenge on Darren Bent by Gary Cahill results in a free kick. Nedum Onuoha takes the free kick.
33:15 Booking Gary Cahill is shown a yellow card.
31:30 The assist for the goal came from Darren Bent.
31:30 GOAL - Danny Welbeck:Sunderland 1 - 0 Bolton Danny Welbeck finds the net with a headed goal from inside the six-yard box. Sunderland 1-0 Bolton.
31:28 Darren Bent has an effort at goal from 6 yards. Save by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
30:41 Shot by Asamoah Gyan from 12 yards. Gary Cahill gets a block in. Jussi Jaaskelainen makes a fantastic save.
30:01 The ball is delivered by Kevin Davies, clearance by Anton Ferdinand.
27:48 Danny Welbeck produces a cross.
27:32 Fabrice Muamba gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Kieran Richardson. Direct free kick taken by Phillip Bardsley.
26:38 Inswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Stuart Holden, save made by Craig Gordon.
26:00 The assistant referee flags for offside against Darren Bent. Free kick taken by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
24:41 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Phillip Bardsley by Martin Petrov. Phillip Bardsley restarts play with the free
24:01 Kevin Davies crosses the ball, Johan Elmander produces a header from inside the area that goes over the bar.
23:21 Stuart Holden sends in a cross, clearance made by Lee Cattermole.
20:48 Free kick awarded for a foul by John Mensah on Kevin Davies. Free kick crossed by Matthew Taylor.
20:48 Substitution Ahmed Elmohamady replaces John Mensah.
19:33 The ball is delivered by Matthew Taylor, comfortable save by Craig Gordon.
13:08 Martin Petrov concedes a free kick for a foul on Phillip Bardsley. Free kick taken by Phillip Bardsley.
12:33 Effort on goal by Darren Bent from inside the penalty area goes harmlessly over the bar.
11:51 Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Jordan Henderson played to the near post, clearance by Zat Knight.
9:04 The official flags Asamoah Gyan offside. Jussi Jaaskelainen restarts play with the free kick.
8:25 Kevin Davies takes a shot. Johan Elmander gets a block in.
7:19 Free kick awarded for a foul by Fabrice Muamba on Danny Welbeck. Asamoah Gyan has an effort direct from the free kick.
6:57 Effort on goal by Martin Petrov from 25 yards. Craig Gordon makes a save.
4:00 Matthew Taylor delivers the ball, Anton Ferdinand makes a clearance.
3:15 Kieran Richardson produces a left-footed shot from long distance which goes wide right of the goal.
2:11 Johan Elmander delivers the ball, Lee Cattermole manages to make a clearance.
0:00 The match gets underway.
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