Bolton last night pulled off the Coca-Cola Cup coup that was denied to another Lancashire town team, Blackpool, in the previous round. While Chelsea may be the last giants to bow out at Burnden Park before its turnstiles click for the final time next spring, the evidence of this relentlessly exciting tie indicated that the Premiership elite would be unwise to count on it.
The First Division leaders, who were beaten finalists in 1995, demonstrated a resilience they lacked in the top flight the following season by shrugging off the setback of conceding a sloppy goal in less than two minutes. Two of their own, by John McGinlay and Nathan Blake, sealed Chelsea's fate by half-time.
Victory was especially sweet for Blake, who failed to make the grade as an apprentice at Stamford Bridge seven years ago. "I always said I'd come back to haunt them,'' the Welsh international said, "and tonight's the night.''
Chelsea's defeat, which followed similar calamities in the same competition at places like Crewe, Wigan, Scunthorpe and Scarborough, may not have surprised their more fatalistic supporters. Admittedly, they were without the injured Gianluca Vialli and Dan Petrescu. Yet this result, coming on the back of their rout by Wimbledon, suggested that Ruud Gullit may shortly have to compromise his utopian ideals.
Ominously for the Chelsea player-manager, who was his team's outstanding performer in his first starting appearance this season, his defensive organiser was again found wanting. On Saturday, Frank Leboeuf was exposed by the pace and power of Marcus Gayle and Efan Ekoku. Blake and McGinlay had a similar effect, reducing the Frenchman to some undignified challenges.
Chelsea had surged in front after 85 seconds. Bolton, the country's leading scorers, had already missed an opportunity when McGinlay failed to attack Blake's cross, and appeared oblivious to the danger as Scott Minto embarked on a cross-field run with Bolton backing off. The wing back had reached the far side of their area when he spotted Keith Branagan off his line. A subtle chip brought him his second goal in successive games, thus doubling his total in two years with Chelsea.
John Spencer had a good case for a penalty 12 minutes later, when Jimmy Phillips toppled his former Rangers colleague from behind as he shaped to shoot with only Kevin Hitchcock to beat. The referee waved aside Chelsea's appeals, and Bolton compounded their dismay with two goals in 20 minutes.
Both stemmed from corners curled in from the right by the left boot of Scott Sellars. To the first, McGinlay applied the deftest of touches to take his tally for the season into double figures.
The second found the impressive Dane, Per Frandsen, rising above the posse of blue shirts to flick the ball on. Blake, unattended at the far post, headed his 11th goal of the season.
Driven on by Gullit, Chelsea dominated the second half. When the Dutchman landed a cross-cum-shot on Bolton's bar, they still had 22 minutes to save their expensive face. But Frandsen blocked another goalbound effort by Minto before Branagan redeemed himself with a thrilling tip-over from Roberto Di Matteo.
Bolton, whose only respite came from Phillips' charging run and shot, also gained a moral victory. In their desperation, Chelsea accumulated four yellow cards, the most deserved being brandished at Mark Hughes for a spiteful lunge at Michael Johansen. Remembering that, and Bolton's positive response to adversity, it was disappointing to hear Gullit complain that it was not as if they had lost to a better side.
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Bergsson, Fairclough, Taggart, Phillips; Johansen, Frandsen, Thompson, Sellars; McGinlay (Taylor, 89), Blake. Substitutes not used: Todd, David M Lee.
Chelsea (3-5-2): Hitchcock; Johnsen, Leboeuf, Clarke; Burley, Gullit, Di Matteo, Wise, Minto (Phelan, 76); Hughes, Spencer. Substitutes not used: David J Lee, Newton.
Referee: R Poulain (Huddersfield).Reuse content