There were many who wondered if Kevin Davies would stay in the wake of Bolton's relegation. He was 35, his contract was up and, Nat Lofthouse aside, there are few to challenge him for the title of the club's finest centre-forward. There was little left to prove.
But he has remained and the goal that finally got Bolton's season underway was typical of this most English of centre-forwards: a fierce header from a Chris Eagles corner that Frank Fielding in the Derby goal could only parry back to the man who had delivered it. He hooked the ball into the net and lanced a boil of frustration that had been building around the ground.
After an opening-day defeat at Burnley, Owen Coyle remarked that his task was to "put a smile on people's faces". They were smiling at the final whistle but for most of the 90 minutes the overriding expression on most faces had been a thin grimace, especially after the opening weekend's defeat.
Had this been a Premier League game, it might have been enough that Bolton were the better side and had the better chances, particularly when Fielding somehow saved from Benik Afobe who was unmarked and operating from close range.
There are no valuable draws for a freshly-relegated side, just wins and had Derby's substitute, Mason Bennett not struck the post late on, this would have been a draw.
Instead, in the first minute of stoppage time, Eagles broke through and kept his nerve to put a gloss on the night – and continue Derby's strange start to a season that has seen them score seven times in their opening three games, which have brought them a single point and elimination from the League Cup.
Relegation has not dulled the passion for football around Bolton but it has not been directed in the way Coyle would have wanted. After a bitter return at the weekend to his former club, Burnley, where he was taunted by a banner pulled behind a light aircraft that he was reaping what he had sowed, the majority of Bolton fans booed their team off.
After last night's supine first half, they did the same here. The club has done almost everything right in the wake of their demotion – kept faith with Coyle, kept his squad together and made intelligent noises about taking Liverpool's Jay Spearing on loan. However, what happens on the pitch cannot be pre-planned. And mostly, what has happened are the actions of a team that has still to come to terms with its new realities.
The positive notes for Coyle to take down in the first hour were that Bolton might have had a penalty when Mark Davies appeared to have been brought down and afterwards Marvin Sordell squandered a free header.
On the other hand, Adam Bodgan appeared unusually nervous in the Bolton goal and, a few minutes after the interval, Derby might have taken the lead but for a foul on Matt Mills by Nathan Tyson. The mood around the Reebok lightened with the referee's decision, if only for a moment.
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Bogdan; Mears, Mills, Knight, Ricketts; Lee, M Davies, Andrews, Eagles; Sordell (Afobe, 60), K Davies. Substitutes not used Lonergan (g), Alonso, Ream, Petrov, Wylde, Pratley.
Derby County (4-4-2): Fielding; Brayford, Keogh, O'Connor, Roberts; Coutts, Bryson, Hendrick, Ward; Tyson, Sammon (Hughes, 69). Substitutes not used Legzdinis (g), Buxton, Jacobs, Doyle, Bennett, Gjokaj.
Referee C Pawson (South Yorkshire).Reuse content