Ask when it was that Bolton Wanderers realised that this Premiership lark could be a mite too difficult and most would select 19 August, the first day of the season. Which would be cruel and unfair.
For all their faults Bolton have exuded belief. They have watched the problems pile on and around them and blithely anticipated that some improbability would occur to rescue them.
Even their manager, Colin Todd, had lost that optimistic sheen. "Don't anyone ask that question," he said, probably because he feared the answer he might give. No, not even he can expect that Bolton will escape relegation. By him was a poster proclaiming "Bolton Wanderers and the Premier League. We are in it together." And they are. Right in it, up to their armpits.
When the second Aston Villa goal went in Bolton hope packed its bags and shot out of Burnden Park. By the end the visitors could have trebled their tally and would have done but for the heroics of the underrated goalkeeper Keith Branagan and some slipshod finishing.
"Heads dropped which hasn't happened before," Alan Stubbs, the captain, said. "If we are going down at least let's go down fighting. We don't want to play like we did in the second half."
He could have added the last six minutes of the first half too because Bolton had a resigned air as soon as Chris Fairclough forgot he was marking Dwight Yorke and allowed him a free header from Mark Draper's cross. When the Trinidadian repeated the feat eight minutes after the interval the match had all the competitive edge of a training kick-about.
"We stopped running, closing people down," Todd said. "They let themselves down, they let the supporters down."
Todd will probably not want a repeat of his tactics either because the diamond shape he adopted sparkled all right but only because it gave the visitors' wing backs the freedom of the flanks to shine in. "We were surprised at their formation," Brian Little, the Villa manager, said, his face remaining straight when he probably wanted to break into a fit of giggles.
Gary Charles could not have hit the main stand with a pass at first but once he matched Alan Wright's accuracy they charged down the touchlines wreaking fearful damage. Bolton's players, congregated in the centre of the field, like cowboys behind their wagons as Villa's braves circled round them.
Only occasionally could they break out of their corral and every time the raider was Sasa Curcic. The Serb had a wonderful game in terms of dribbling and a poor one when it came to looking up and passing once his surges had opened the Villa defence. However, if Nathan Blake and Fabian De Freitas were ahead most midfield players would shut their eyes too.
Which is probably all that is left for Bolton supporters. Shut their eyes, forget the carnage and dream of next season. Things can only get better.
Goal: Yorke (39) 0-1; Yorke (53) 0-2.
Bolton Wanderers (4-3-1-2): Branagan; Green, Bergsson (Thompson, 59), Fairclough, Phillips; Sneekes, Stubbs, Sellars (McGinlay, 69); Curcic; DeFreitas, Blake. Substitute not used: Paatelainen.
Aston Villa (5-3-2): Bosnich; Charles, Ehiogu, Southgate, Staunton, Wright; Townsend, Draper, Johnson; Milosevic, Yorke. Substitutes not used: Taylor, Farrelly, Oakes (gk).
Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).
Bookings: Bolton: Sneekes. Villa: Townsend.
Man of the match: Yorke.
Attendance: 18,099.Reuse content