For most of the game Jose Mourinho's touchline demeanour could best be described as impassive, but there was no disguising the nature of his team's performance - they were making heavy weather of it.
Not exactly a weak Chelsea team with nine internationals including a World Cup winner among them, but this was certainly not Chelsea-Max. Oscar's second half winning goal means that they are safely through to the last-16 of the Capital One Cup where they will face League Two Shrewsbury Town, and a draw that has - away tie aside - been very kind to them.
It was a chance for Mourinho to give a run-out to his peripheral players such as Mohamed Salah, Filipe Luis and Loic Remy, but that they did not win by more was a source of frustration for their manager. This is not a good Bolton team, currently just outside the Championship relegation zone and with manager Dougie Freedman's position in peril. Chelsea should have been comfortable.
Only Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta remained in the team from Sunday's draw with Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium and, having taken the lead through debutant Kurt Zouma, Chelsea dominated the game and missed countless chances. Against the odds, Bolton managed to fashion an equaliser through captain Matt Mills and even after Oscar scored the second on 55 minutes it remained tight to the end.
At the start of the night, Mourinho had been kept waiting by the tunnel longer than he likes to greet Freedman and it set the tone for the evening for the Chelsea manager - one of persistent annoyance and frustration.
Chelsea were in control and yet nothing was certain until the final whistle with Bolton's threat from set-pieces a problem all night. There were times when Andre Schurrle appeared to be playing Bolton on his own and his luck - 12 shots, no goal - was encapsulated by a late effort that hit the post and bounced back to Bolton goalkeeper Andrew Lonerghan, who had a good game.
Poor old Bolton, shackled with huge debts and going nowhere fast rallied in the latter stages when Mourinho sent on Didier Drogba, Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic to steady the ship. Later Steve Holland, Mourinho's assistant admitted that a lack of height in the team was a worry at set-pieces and Drogba and Matic were introduced to remedy that.
Bolton had one attempt on goal in the first half, and one goal to show for it. All in all, a remarkable return in a half in which there were times when they seemed like they might just assume the brace position and hope for the best.
With a first team squad with as much quality as the one at Mourinho's disposal, there are fewer opportunities for giving the academy kids a game. He gave a debut to Zouma and a start to the promising Under-21s Dutch midfielder Nathan Ake.
Otherwise, the club's best Under-21s players Andreas Christensen and Lewis Baker had to settle for a place on the bench. There was a first game of the season for Petr Cech, given a warm reception by the home crowd.
Zouma's goal was forced in from close range after Cahill saw his header blocked by Craig Davies. It came to Zouma via Remy and from then on it looked like it would be easy for Chelsea. Lonerghan led something of a charmed life in goal for Bolton, however, and then a remarkable equaliser.
Liam Feeney's free-kick from the right was headed in by Mills who had got between Cahill and Zouma. The header was impressive but it went across Cech and into the right-hand corner of the goal. He should have done much better.
Holland said: “The players' mentality was excellent right from the kick-off. Their approach to the game, the quality with which they played, was very good. At half-time we couldn't have asked for much more, other than a bit more detail in the two penalty boxes”. As for Schurrle, Holland said he “reflected the mentality of the team”.
“When you think not much more than two months ago he was playing in a World Cup final, now he's playing in the third round of the Capital One Cup and showed a really committed performance.”
Freedman said that his plan had been to get to the last ten minutes with his team in contention and try to put pressure on Chelsea with set-pieces. “For their manager to bring on the players he did was a credit to our team,” he said. “I thought it was a good performance, very solid and committed.”
What turned out to be the winner from Oscar came ten minutes after the break when he turned sharply and hit a right-foot shot from outside the area low and inside Lonerghan's right-sided post. No less than they deserved but it was a slog to get there.
Man of the match Schürrle.
Match rating 5/10.
Referee G Scott (Oxford)
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