Wanderers had their Japanese midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata sent off after 33 minutes for a second yellow card. Many games have been ruined by such a dismissal but this was one which, in a strange sort of way, was partly redeemed by one. It was going nowhere up to that point, but afterwards it acquired a certain epic quality as Bruno N'Gotty and Tal Ben Haim held together a hard-pressed Bolton defence.
"We've shown resolution and a determination against the odds to get something out of the game," said Bolton's manager Sam Allardyce afterwards, before launching an attack on Mike Riley, a referee with whom Bolton have had their run-ins in the past and who booked six other players, four of them Wanderers, in the match.
"Nakata has committed three fouls and been sent off. Robbie Savage has committed three and not been booked, but the statistics don't stack up when Mike Riley referees," Allardyce said. "It's blatant inconsistency and he's nearly caused a riot tonight."
There was indeed a short outbreak of hostilities between the rival fans, although it was hard to see how Riley could be held responsible for that.
Allardyce sent his No 2 Sammy Lee to the post-match press conference and he confirmed the obvious. "We're all angry," he said. "We feel it was quite a disappointing performance from the official.''
Blackburn's Mark Hughes, predictably, saw it differently, saying Bolton had been punished for targeting Savage. It said much about a fractious first half that the midfielder was more often the victim than the villain.
Nakata had been booked for a foul on Haim when he lunged at David Bentley and Riley had no hesitation in producing the card again. Even Allardyce and Lee admitted they were two bookable offences.
Bookings heavily outnumbered chances at that point, although Brad Friedel had smothered Kevin Davies's shot after Rovers had failed to clear Kevin Nolan's long throw, and Paul Dickov had twisted away from his marker to get in a shot. The game changed with Nakata's departure, with Bolton sacrificing the Mexican striker Jared Borgetti for the midfield anchor Ivan Campo, and Blackburn throwing everything at them.
Rovers had two marvellous opportunities at the start of the second half, but Brett Emerton's header came down off the underside of the bar on to the line and bounced clear while Dickov missed from point-blank range from Morten Gamst Pedersen's low cross.
There remained the lingering threat of a breakaway and when it came, Bolton could have won the match. Davies picked out the substitute Ricardo Vaz Te, but he lost his footing as he tried to find the angle to beat Friedel.
Allardyce brought on Matt Jansen, signed from Blackburn the previous day. There was to be no fairytale for him, as Blackburn continued to hunt for the winner. Campo cleared Ryan Nelsen's header off the line and Craig Bellamy put one just wide, but Bolton's stubborn rearguard action deserved to be blessed with a little late luck.