Bolton manager Gary Megson believes Bolton will be second favourites to reach the last 16 of the Uefa Cup when these sides meet again in Madrid next week but they can at least claim a deserved advantage after El Hadji Diouf's second-half goal tipped last night's first leg in their favour in front of a slightly disbelieving crowd at the Reebok.
The 74th-minute decider came within moments of the sending-off of Atletico's 19-year-old Argentine striker Sergio Aguero for spitting at Bolton's man of the match, Matt Taylor, who then played a key role in the goal with the blocked header that preceded Diouf's match-winning moment.
It was not the only unsavoury moment. Diouf – a player, of course, who has "previous" in one of the game's more disgusting misdemeanours – appeared to be targeted himself earlier in a clash with Madrid's Mista, although Megson was not aware of the incident when quizzed afterwards.
"There is no place for such behaviour in the game and we have a player who was severely punished for it and still suffers as a result," Megson said. "I cannot comment on something I did not see, although as far as I know my players behaved impeccably."
Javier Aguirre, the Atletico coach, had seen the Aguero incident on replay. "He said he spat on the floor," he said. "In the version I saw the spit seemed to land between the linesman and the Bolton player.
"It was a costly moment as I thought with 11 men we had weathered the storm. The defeat is hard to digest but I feel we can turn it around in the second leg."
Indeed, the dismissal of the Fifa Young Player of the Year seemed to be the determining factor. Wary of the home side's direct tactics in a first half in which they tended to sit back, Atletico had survived a couple of near efforts from Kevin Davies and another two from Taylor, but with Aguero on after an hour and Diego Forlan a growing menace they had begun to counter-attack with threatening precision.
It all changed within 60 seconds of the red card, however, as Taylor's header from a Stelios Giannakopoulos cross was cleared but only to the extent of teeing up Diouf to drive home.
Last night, with the luxury of a blank weekend before next Thursday's second leg, Megson could take the competition seriously and among a near full-strength line-up there were some excellent performances, from Taylor in particular but with Davies, Ivan Campo and Nicky Hunt not far behind.
Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Hunt, Cahill, A O'Brien, Samuel; Campo; Diouf, Guthrie (Giannakopoulos, 59), Nolan, Taylor; Davies. Substitutes not used: Al-Habsi (gk), Méité, Teymourian, Vaz Te, J O'Brien, Sinclair.
Atletico Madrid (4-1-4-1): Abbiati; Lopez, Perea, Pablo, Pernia; Cleber Santana; Maxi, Reyes (Aguero, 59), Mista (Miguel, 88), Simao (Jurado, 72); Forlan. Substitutes not used: Falcon (gk), Fabiano Eller, Quillo, Dominguez.
Referee: P Rasmussen (Denmark).Reuse content