Those who claimed that Bolton were in a false and flattering position when they strutted in fourth place in the Premiership had their suspicions confirmed as their slide down the table continued to gather momentum.
Joey Barton's second-half goal pulled City out of their own recent slump, but Bolton should have converted at least one of the chances that came their way in the 40 remaining minutes.
Stubbornly though City defended after taking the lead, they were helped by the way that the Wanderers' best chances all fell to the wrong people. Anthony Barnessat right-back, surely their player least likely to score, had three wonderful opportunities, while the Israeli defender, Tal Ben Haim, fluffed his shot completely from the best opening of all.
"We aren't blessed with an out-and-out goalscorer like Robbie Fowler or Nicolas Anelka," the Bolton manager, Sam Allardyce, said. "But some chances could have fallen for players who have scored this year. We had enough opportunities but just failed to put the ball in the net."
Kevin Keegan surveyed City's position in the top half of the table and suggested halting the season there and then. "We had a bit of luck today, but we showed a lot of resilience,'' he said.
Bolton, now without a win in seven games, never looked like getting back to their compelling early season form. Kevin Davies, so often a handful for opposing defences was kept quiet by the combination of Sylvain Distin and Richard Dunne, although Bolton did dominate midfield, with Gary Speed driving forward from his position just in front of the back four.
Unfortunately, the opportunities they created fell to the unfortunate Barness, who saw one shot deflected wide and hit David James, who knew little about it, with another.
City - Shaun Wright-Phillips and Anelka in particular - were anonymous. That changed briefly at the start of the second-half when Wright-Phillips crossed to the left wing and made his first telling run of the game. Like much else thus far, it petered out before amounting to anything.
Soon after City were in the lead. Fowler won the ball in the air and then slid it through neatly off Ben Haim's thigh into the stride of Anelka. Jussi Jaaskelainen dived at his feet and might well have been adjudged to have brought him down in the process, but the ball ran on for Barton to steer into the empty net.
The question after that was whether Bolton would make their weight of possession pay or whether City could hang on.
Allardyce brought on the Portuguese youngster, Ricardo Vaz Te, for the largely ineffectual Jay-Jay Okocha and that almost brought the equaliser immediately. Kevin Nolan sent Vaz Te away and his square ball found Ben Haim all on his own, only for the centre-back to mis-hit his attempt horribly.
There was plenty more pressure after that, with Speed firing marginally wide, Barness volleying off target and Stelios Giannakopoulos heading over the bar from Nolan's cross in injury time.
"I feel bitterly disappointed that we've lost," said Allardyce. "The rub of the green isn't going our way at the moment and we're falling to a run of depression with four defeats on the trot, which isn't like us."
Bolton are now out of the top half of the Premiership; it is going to take a major effort to re-establish themselves there.Reuse content