The man who put them there was Scott Sellars, whose 51st-minute goal - his first of the season - ensured that his team have won nine of their 12 matches so far, making it their best start to a campaign since 1934.
Sellars, in many ways, could personify Bolton's position. Surplus to requirements at Newcastle, his career has been full of nearlys. Almost a champion with Blackburn and Leeds, his timing was hardly perfect again in joining the club for their season of discontent.
At 30 his days are numbered but last night he suggested they ought to be cherished. Operating on the left wing, he sprayed passes all round the field with the precision of a draughtsman while his dribbling would have made David Ginola, his replacement at St James' Park, envious.
He was scarcely less accurate with his goal that spoke volumes for the confidence running through the Bolton team. John McGinlay could have passed to Michael Johansen on the right but he used the Danish winger as a decoy, crossing to the penalty spot. There, Nathan Blake, his back to goal, feinted to go left and then delivered a pass in the opposite direction where Sellars side-footed in from eight yards.
Bolton's record over the last two seasons has read like a warning on the Government's privatisation issues - things can go up as well as down. The whipping boys of the Premiership have had a start this time that they could barely have conceived amid the unhappiness of last May.
Colin Todd, their manager, wrote in the programme: "I can't emphasis how pleased I am with the way things have gone so far," and he will not have been too displeased with last night's performance either.
Bolton dominated the match and would have got far more goals but for the performance of the Tranmere goalkeeper Danny Coyne. After 26 minutes he made a splendid point-blank save from McGinlay's header and the match finished with him almost becoming a one-man defence as his rearguard disintegrated before him. The final piece of action, his saving at Sellars' feet, could have been a cameo of the whole night.
Tranmere, who began the night in fourth position, looked as they have for several seasons now, good but not quite good enough to get promotion. The closest they came to scoring came after 11 minutes when their player- manager, John Aldridge, had a cross deflected on to the bar. Apart from that there was much bluster but little threat.
Indeed Aldridge finished the evening screaming furiously at his colleagues when his challenge with the Bolton goalkeeper, Keith Branagan, resulted in the ball bouncing round the home six-yard box. The fact that none of the Tranmere players had the gumption to chase it clearly infuriated the boss.
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Bergsson, Taggart, Fairclough, Phillips; Johansen, Frandsen, Thompson, Sellars; Drake, McGinlay. Substitutes not used: Taylor, Todd, Lee.
Tranmere Rovers (4-4-2): Coyne; Stevens, Thorne (Jones, 59), Teale, Brannan; Irons, Cook (Mahon, 80), O'Brien, Bonetti; Aldridge, Branch (Morrissey, 80).
Referee: R Furnandiz (Doncaster).Reuse content