Slowly, relentlessly, reality is intruding on Bolton Wanderers and the message is cold and unwelcoming: just because you are in a fairy tale it does not mean you are guaranteed a happy ending. Last month's surprise leaders of the Premiership suffered their third successive home League defeat yesterday and suddenly gravity is weighing upon them like full, heavy bags of cement.
Even more so after this match. Not only were Wanderers thrashed by a Newcastle team who did not need to get very close to the inspirational, but they had their only fit goalkeeper, Jussi Jaaskelainen, dismissed for deliberate handball. As he went, the optimism that has swirled round the Reebok Stadium since Wanderers won their first three matches on their return to the Premiership shot out of the exit door.
Newcastle were 1-0 ahead at the time thanks to Nolberto Solano's first-half goal but, faced with 10 men and a goalkeeping stand-in who was as raw as the north wind, they ruthlessly exploited their advantage with further goals from Laurent Robert, Alan Shearer and Craig Bellamy.
It was a bad afternoon for Bolton and was shaped, according to their manager, Sam Allardyce, by Newcastle's first goal. "We have a video piped into the dressing room and [the goal] was offside," he said. "I'm very disappointed, we've been punished for something that was not our fault." On the basis that a rest is as good as a change, Bolton spent part of their two-week lay-off before this game on holiday, although their choice of venue, the Lake District, meant they topped up their team-bonding rather than their tans.
After home defeats by Southampton and Sunderland something different was essential, but it was soon clear that Bellamy's pace would guarantee them a difficult afternoon. He sped through after 16 minutes only to be stopped by Jaaskelainen's dive at his feet, and was denied again by the Bolton keeper nine minutes later when his shot was blocked by a leg. In between, Bolton's only purple patch might have yielded two goals if Dean Holdsworth had been sharper or Bo Hansen more accurate, but as that faded Newcastle took a command they would not relinquish again. Nikos Dabizas, swinging inelegantly from near the penalty spot, missed when he should have scored. Then Newcastle took the lead four minutes before half-time.
Robbie Elliott crossed from the left, Shearer headed across the goal and Solano stretched just enough to get the flimsiest of touches to beat Jaaskelainen. Bolton believed that Shearer had been offside and such were the protests that Paul Warhurst was cautioned.
Bolton needed a lift, and one almost came within a minute of the second half. A cross from the left was not cleared and it required a flamboyant save from Shay Given to stop Nicky Southall scoring from the edge of the area. They had another chance to equalise five minutes later when Holds-worth won a tussle in the air and headed to Ricardo Gardner. But instead of keeping a cool head, the Jamaican tried an acrobatic volley and the result was a spectacular miss.
Things were not going Bolton's way, and on the hour Newcastle struck again. Elliott's pass from the left was heading towards Shearer when Jaaskelainen, who had strayed beyond his area, stuck out a hand. Having denied an obvious scoring opportunity, the Finn did not even wait to see his red card. Bolton's only other goalkeeper is the injured Steve Banks, so Hansen took over the gloves only to watch Robert's free-kick swerve round the wall and into the corner of the net.
Bolton were in disarray and Newcastle went for the jugular. Shearer won a race to the near post to head in Robert's cross after 71 minutes, and provided for Bellamy to score with six minutes to go.
"After the sending-off, we felt we only had to hit the target and it would go in," Bobby Robson, the Newcastle manager, said. "And it did."
Bolton Wanderers 0 Newcastle United 4
Solano 41, Robert 62, Shearer 72, Bellamy 84
Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 25,631Reuse content