Duncan Ferguson's head outweighed Bolton's heart as the deciding factor in a vital match in the Premiership drop zone. Back after a three-match suspension and made captain for the day in the absence of other suitable candidates, Ferguson claimed a hat-trick with his commanding cranium, his first Everton triple perfectly timed against fellow relegation contenders.
But if Bolton had no answer to Ferguson's aerial power, their fighting qualities - epitomised by the way they came back to level the scores in unlikely fashion immediately before half-time - meant Everton could never relax.
It had looked inconceivable for much of the first half at Goodison yesterday that Bolton would even have a say in proceedings. In their three-man central defence the chore of failing to challenge Ferguson in the air seemed to be shared out evenly and the big Scot, who has insisted that he will not play for his country in the World Cup, was having a field day.
He had already had one effort cleared off the goal line by Scott Sellars before he powered in for the first of his goals, outjumping Chris Fairclough to force his header just under Gavin Ward's crossbar.
With Gareth Farrelly and Michael Ball, two of the lesser known Everton players who performed beyond expectations yesterday, stroking the ball around with assurance in the Everton midfield, Howard Kendall's side were looking more comfortable than has been their way for most of this troubled season and a second goal as half-time approached was no surprise.
Neil Cox began Bolton's problems by failing to clear, Andy Hinchcliffe put the Wanderers under pressure with an incisive run and Nicky Barmby cut the ball across for Ferguson to again beat Ward, this time with a stooping header.
Bolton's response was extraordinary and showed why, for all their other shortcomings, they may yet prove to have the determination that will give them a fighting chance of Premiership survival.
After failing to register as an attacking force for the first 42 minutes of the game they suddenly fashioned two goals out of nothing to reawaken all Everton's old self-doubt.
Sellars was at the heart of Bolton's revival, curling in a free-kick from which Gudni Bergsson headed them back into contention and then scoring a marvellous second himself.
In truth, the new Everton goalkeeper, Thomas Myhre, would have expected to reach Bergsson's effort which went past him at relatively close proximity, but he had no chance with Sellar's shot, a gloriously struck left-footer from 25 yards after the Icelandic substitute, Arnar Gunnlaugsson, had laid the ball back to him.
Everton never looked as coherent again and Bolton carved out a few promising openings early in the second half before the home team rebuilt a semblance of composure.
Inevitably, it was Ferguson who once more gave them the advantage. Thomas, making a rare first-team start, again did well to get in his cross, but it was in the air for an awfully long time before Ferguson helped himself, his flashing downward header brooking no argument.
Even then, Bolton could have snatched something from a Christmas programme that has brought them only one point from two games against relegation rivals, had Myhre not made a save that Kendall called "world class" to deny Nathan Blake a second Bolton equaliser.
Ferguson was close to a fourth with his feet, although Michael Johansen could have staged another late rescue had he connected better with a volley.
Goals: Ferguson (17) 1-0; (41) 2-0; Bergsson (42) 2-1; Sellars (43) 2- 2; Ferguson (67) 3-2.
Everton (4-4-2): Myhre; Thomas, Dunne, Tiler, Hinchcliffe; Cadamarteri, Farrelly, Ball, Oster (Thomsen, 76); Ferguson, Barmby. Substitutes not used: Barrett, Allen, Jeffers, Gerrard (gk).
Bolton Wanderers (3-5-2): Ward; Fairclough, Fish (Johansen, 79), Bergsson; Cox, Pollock, Frandsen, Sellars, Whitlow; Beardsley (Gunnlaugsson, 34, Carr, 65), Blake.
Substitutes not used: Phillips, Jaaskelainen (gk).
Referee: K Burge (Mid Glamorgan).
Booked: Everton Tiler. Bolton Bergsson.
Man of the match: Ferguson.
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