A goal from Johnny Heitinga in time added on denied Bolton a replay that was the least they deserved from this fourth-round tie.
Relegated last season and currently an undistinguished 16th in the Championship, the Wanderers belied that modest position and were well on their way to providing a stumbling block to a Premier League side for the second round in a row.
That was until Heitinga, the Dutch defender, was brought on as a late substitute in midfield. When Bolton failed to head clear in the 91st minute, he was on hand to volley powerfully through a crowd of players and spare his team a re-run they did not need.
“I thought Bolton deserved a replay,” the Everton manager, David Moyes, admitted. “But if anyone was going to go on and win it, I thought it would be Everton.”
After 11 years and 500 games in charge of Everton, the closest Moyes has been to a trophy is the FA Cup final defeat by Chelsea in 2009.
That is good enough reason to continue to take the competition seriously and Moyes accordingly fielded a full-strength team at the Reebok, minus the injured Darron Gibson.
Bolton were surprise replay winners at Sunderland in the third round. Less surprisingly, Dougie Freedman gave the main striking responsibility to Marvin Sordell, the scorer of two goals in that tie.
He had precious little chance to shine during an opening quarter which was one-way traffic in Everton’s favour. With any number of neat attacking touches, it looked to be only a matter of time before they took the lead – and it was.
After 19 minutes Bolton committed the cardinal sin of allowing Leighton Baines too much room on the left flank. From his low, whipped-in cross, the lively Victor Anichebe had his initial effort blocked, only for the ball to find the net via Steven Pienaar’s chest.
It was a messy goal, but one in keeping with the balance of play thus far. The startling thing was the revitalising effect it had on Bolton.
Almost immediately, Chris Eagles was brought back for a marginal offside when clean through. Then Darren Pratley, pushing through from midfield, attacked the by-line and pulled the ball back for Sordell, lurking at the near post, to turn in neatly.
Tim Howard scored against Bolton at Goodison last season. Yesterday, he was kept busy with more conventional duties, like saving from Eagles and Marcos Alonso as Bolton continued to press.
For much of the second period, both teams seemed to have left their best work behind in that “half of two halves”. The best chances fell to the Wanderers, with the impressive Alonso forcing a leaping save from Howard.
Then Josh Vela, who formed an industrious engine room with the Liverpool loanee, Jay Spearing, robbed Marouane Fellaini of the ball and surged forward, only for Eagles to waste the opening with a poor cross.
Against that, Andy Lonergan was called into action once, to tip Pienaar’s shot around the post.
After Heitinga’s winner, there was still time for Magaye Gueye to hit the bar and for Benik Afobe to have a chance of an equaliser at the other end. A proper Cup-tie in other words, and one that Everton knew they were fortunate to win at the first attempt.
Freedman, the Bolton manager, paid tribute to the army of volunteers who made the game possible, despite heavy overnight snow.
“I was disappointed with the result but not with the performance,” he said. “I thought we probably played our best football since I’ve been here. There were a lot of positives.”
Those positives included a good all-round performance from Sordell, a player Freedman says is still having to work hard to build up his fitness, and an emotional return by Stuart Holden, a late arrival off the bench.
All in all, Bolton had a little more to congratulate themselves on than Everton, but, as Moyes said, the Cup is always about getting through to the next round – no matter how scratchily.
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-1-1) Lonergan; Ricketts, Knight, Ream, Alonso; Lee, Spearing, Vela (Holden, 81), Eagles (Afobe, 74); Pratley; Sordell (Ngog, 85).
Everton (4-4-2) Howard; Neville, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Mirallas (Gueye, 17), Osman, Fellaini, Pienaar; Anichebe, Jelavic (Heitinga, 80).
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Alonso (Bolton)
Match rating: 7/10