Mikel Arteta's influence on the game, his opening goal the one moment of genius in a somewhat mundane encounter, served as another painful reminder to his manager, David Moyes, of why this campaign counts as Everton's great lost opportunity.
Making his sixth start after the best part of 12 months out with a knee injury, the Everton playmaker curled in a superb 20-yard free-kick after Gretar Steinsson had been penalised, and sent off, for hauling down Ayegbeni Yakubu as the forward chased a through-ball from Steven Pienaar.
The goal clinched Everton's seventh straight home win in the League, their best run in two decades, and lifted the game above the end-of-season mediocrity it had featured over the preceding 72 minutes. It also demonstrated that Everton's season might have been radically different had Arteta, among others, been available from the outset. "Of course I wish it was three months ago, with the players we have coming back," said Moyes. "And that was a terrific free-kick. I said I didn't want Mikel to do things too soon when he came back but he's improving all the time. He's feeling more like his old self."
Everton rounded off the victory in the closing minutes when Leon Osman did well to keep the ball in play and pulled it back for Pienaar to score into an open net from 15 yards, a goal which was rough justice on a Bolton team who had more than matched Everton in the first period.
Indeed, their manager, Owen Coyle, had a number of complaints, not only about Steinsson's dismissal but also the fact that Arteta apparently moved the ball closer to the Bolton goal prior to his free-kick, and referee Alan Wiley's failure to send off Tim Cahill.
"My initial impression was that Yakubu was offside but, if there was contact, it was minimal," said Coyle. "Mr Wiley, in his wisdom, decided it was a red card, which sometimes happens, but my issue then is that he allows Mikel Arteta, who is a world-class player, to move the ball four yards closer to our goal. I would suggest he's far more dangerous from four yards closer to our goal."
Cahill, booked in the first half, might have been dismissed, either for deliberate handball or a studs-up challenge on Lee Chung-Yong. "I've had players booked and sent off for similar offences," added Coyle.
Of a number of chances Bolton carved out in the opening period, a superb flowing move ended with Jack Wilshere slipping the ball to Kevin Davies, whose shot was kept out by Tim Howard's outstretched leg.
Referee: Alan Wiley
Man of the match: Arteta
Match rating: 5/10