When they heard that Manchester City had snatched the Premier League title in absurd circumstances, Bolton hearts would have dropped. They could have saved themselves.
The final whistle had already gone and Owen Coyle was on the pitch to commiserate with his players when the televisions in the Britannia Stadium's executive boxes relayed the fact that in Manchester something extraordinary had happened.
Then their minds would have raced back to the two goals that ended their 11-year stay in the Premier League. One was the kind that their finest player, Nat Lofthouse, would have scored, bundling over a goalkeeper and leaving him in the net. In the 1958 FA Cup final, it was Manchester United's Harry Gregg. Here it was Adam Bogdan.
As Matthew Etherington played the ball in, Zat Knight, who might have cut it out, froze. It struck Jonathan Walters, reared up and Bogdan seemed to have got at least a glove and a half to it before Walters bundled it out of his hands and into the net.
Coyle rushed to the touchline, incandescent. That Stoke had just launched a new away kit that next season will see them playing in the maroon and blue stripes of Barcelona would have raised a few eyebrows. It was not a goal Lionel Messi would have recognised.
"How that goal could have been given, I do not know," Coyle reflected afterwards. "Jonathan Walters is a good player but his head hit Adam Bodgan's arm halfway up his elbow. I have been in to see the officials. I have done that quite often but I do not seem to get anywhere."
His friend, the Stoke manager, Tony Pulis, predicted that Coyle would not have been happy with the penalty that drew Stoke level less than a quarter of an hour from the finish, and he was right. Peter Crouch seemed to fall over Bodgan as the two scrambled for the ball. Walters was charged with taking the penalty and it was in the net before the Hungarian moved.
"They were two horrible decisions," said Coyle. "We will take our medicine but we will believe we had enough quality to survive. It is very sombre down there. It is not a feeling I am used to as a manager."
For Coyle, this is his first failure as a manager and in the distasteful way football seems to glory in the misfortunes of others, it would have been welcomed in Burnley. They had seen Blackburn relegated and now came the downfall of the man who had abandoned Turf Moor for the better opportunities of the Reebok Stadium.
In truth, the moment that decided Bolton's fate came not yesterday but at the fag end of the previous Sunday's games: the 60 seconds that separated Djibril Cissé's winner against Stoke for QPR from West Bromwich Albion's equaliser at the Reebok.
For those around Coyle, his fitness trainers, his coaches and those like Stuart Holden and Fabrice Muamba up in the stands, who could do nothing to influence the outcome, the afternoon must have seemed unbearable.
Only when they were a goal down did Bolton come to terms with their task. There were 11 members of Coyle's squad whose contracts with Wanderers for all practical purposes ended on the final whistle.
Two of them, Sam Ricketts and Kevin Davies, now combined to send the ball on to the top of Thomas Sorensen's bar. It was said at Burnley that Coyle had no plan B but the equaliser was a goal straight out of the Sam Allardyce school that for so long had sustained Bolton at the top table.
A long punt by Bogdan towards Ivan Klasnic saw the ball played to Mark Davies, although the midfielder almost immediately appeared to have lost control of it. Both Robert Huth and Andy Wilkinson ran to cover. The German tried to hoof the ball clear, it struck the falling figure of Davies and sped past Sorensen.
It was a big call for Coyle to have chosen Kevin Davies ahead of David Ngog as he is one of the 11 now out of contract. However, if this was to be his final goal for Bolton, it was an extraordinary one, a cross directed at Klasnic which drifted towards Sorensen who somehow pushed it between the post and the crossbar and into his own net.
Bolton's warhorse walked over to Martin Petrov and shrugged his shoulders. At half-time, Bolton were safe. They needed one more goal to make it certain. They so nearly got it. Petrov blazed just past the post, Klasnic drove hugely over it. Tim Ream's late header was also wonderfully saved.
However, news that, astonishingly, Queen's Park Rangers were beating Manchester City had long since flooded through the stands and the game became enveloped by a flat calm. The misses would not matter after all. Only on the final whistle did their cost become clear.
Stoke: SORENSEN, WILKINSON, SHAWCROSS, UPSON, WILSON, FULLER, WHELAN, WHITEHEAD, ETHERINGTON, WALTERS, CROUCH
Bolton: BOGDAN, RICKETTS, REAM, KNIGHT, BOYATA, PETROV, M DAVIES, REO-COKER, EAGLES, KLASNIC, K DAVIES
Scorers. Stoke: Walters 13, 77. Bolton: M Davies 39, K Davies 45
Substitutes: Stoke Jerome (Fuller, 52), Shotton (Upson, 64). Bolton Ngog (Klasnic, 69), Lee (Eagles, 81), Sordell (K Davies, 83).
Booked: Stoke Huth. Bolton Ricketts .
Man of the match Crouch. Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Stoke 50% Bolton 50%.
Attempts on target: Stoke 8 Bolton 8.
Referee C Foy (Merseyside). Attendance 27,789.