As he ran out to referee the second half, sources at Manchester City allege that Mark Clattenburg turned to the members of their bench and asked: "How do you work with Craig Bellamy all week?" In the 45 minutes that followed he booked Bellamy twice, once for dissent and once for diving.
The first yellow card was predictable. Whether bawling out Robinho for a lack of effort, as he did after an insipid defeat at Portsmouth last season, or running down the touchline telling Neil Warnock that Selhurst Park was a "dump" as he did during August's Carling Cup victory at Crystal Palace, Bellamy has always been mouthy, arrogant and opinionated. At the Reebok most of those opinions were directed towards the Bolton full-back, Gretar Steinsson. However, Bellamy is not a cheat.
Mark Hughes has been working with him, on and off, for almost a decade with Wales, Blackburn and now at the richest football club in the world. When recently asked why he sticks by him, the Manchester City manager replied: "Because every time I have worked with Craig, he has produced."
On Saturday as City, fresh from victories against Arsenal and Chelsea, found themselves once more unable to shake off the kind of team they are expected to swat aside, Bellamy produced a single, perfect pass that dissected two defenders to allow Micah Richards to drive home an improbably good goal. That he was part of a defence that conceded three against a Bolton side struggling for their lives was not lost on Richards afterwards. Manchester City are not a team built on the galactico principle of Real Madrid where defenders are seen as an afterthought. Gareth Barry, Vincent Kompany, Nigel de Jong, Kolo Touré and Joleon Lescott are an array of defenders and defensive midfielders who have cost the club £78m and have kept one clean sheet in the league since August.
"We are really disappointed with the goals we conceded," Richards said. "I don't think Bolton had many more than three shots but they scored three times. It is quite frustrating really. If we are going to get where we want to be, we are going to have to tighten up.
"When we go forward we all tend to go and that leaves gaps at the back. Some of us have lost concentration but we have shown against Arsenal and Chelsea that we can nullify the urge to attack. We know we can do it, but we have gone behind a few times over the season and yet we have only ended up losing one game – and everyone knows what happened at Manchester United."
There, the six minutes of injury time that culminated in Michael Owen's winner were added by Clattenburg, which may have added to Hughes' anger, although Bolton, with one league win at the Reebok all season, would have wanted more than a point as a reward for three goals. Two of them were scored by Ivan Klasnic whose loan from Nantes appears to be a highlight of Gary Megson's mixed record with the limited funds he has been able to use in the transfer market.
Klasnic is a Croatian, a nation whose footballers mix in Brazilian skills with a Yorkshireman's blunt speaking. Asked if this was a point gained against a side that could afford to start with Robinho and Roque Santa Cruz on the bench, Klasnic replied: "No. Normally we should win this game. We must get three points to get out of the small shit we are in. If you score to go ahead, every time you must expect to win the game. Three times we were in front."
Bolton Wanderers: (4-1-3-2) Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, Knight, Robinson; Muamba (M Davies, 80); Lee, Cohen, Taylor; K Davies, Klasnic (Elmander, 72). Substitutes not used: Al-Habsi (gk), A O'Brien, Samuel, Basham, Ricketts.
Manchester City: (4-2-4) Given; Richards, Touré, Lescott, Sylvinho; Barry, Kompany (Robinho, 72); Wright-Phillips (Ireland, 21), Tevez, Adebayor (Santa Cruz, 83), Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Zabaleta, Onuoha, Petrov.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).
Booked: Bolton Cohen, K Davies, Klasnic; Manchester City Sylvinho, Bellamy. Sent off: Man City Bellamy (66).
Man of the match: Tevez
Attendance: 22,735.Reuse content