Bolton had to hang on for a nervous victory that should have been comfortable, after failing to build on a dream start engineered by the Pompey old boy, Matthew Taylor. He scored one and laid on another as Bolton got away to a flyer with two goals in the first three minutes.
With only three at home since the opening day of the season, they threatened to match that before Portsmouth had barely got out of the dressing room. Their rapid brace – the other came from the equally effective Ricardo Gardner – was only the start of an afternoon of dashing attacking football from Bolton; unfortunately for the nerves of their supporters, a string of near misses left the door ajar for the visitors to grasp an undeserved share of the points.
With something close to an embarrassment of naturally left-sided players, Gary Megson solved the problem of supply and demand by slotting in Taylor on the right side of midfield. He soon got his reward for this piece of lateral thinking.
The game was less than a minute old when Andy O'Brien put in a long, early ball, Kevin Davies won it with a flicked header and Taylor was there to take it away from the defender with his first touch and bury it in David James' net with his second. Taylor was instrumental in the second, meeting a cross from JLloyd Samuel and teeing up Gardner to score.
It was buccaneering stuff from a Wanderers side that can be stodgy at home and it should have been the start of a pre-Christmas feast. Within a couple more minutes, Gretar Steinsson had put the ball across and Gardner had volleyed wide as Bolton threatened to run away with it.
But, out of the blue, Portsmouth got one back after 19 minutes. NoéPamarot hit in a free-kick, Niko Kranjcar wrong-footed the defence by crossing with the outside of his right boot and Peter Crouch out-jumped O'Brien on the far post to head home.
It was their first genuine attack, but it raised the spectre of a Pompey smash-and-grab that hung over the rest of the match, even though Bolton could have reached double figures if they had taken all their chances. Johan Elmander was the first culprit, while Gardner and Taylor had shots blocked and Steinsson a header cleared off the line before half-time.
The interval must have been an uncomfortable one for the Portsmouth players, with their manager, Tony Adams, telling them what he thought of it so far. "They were awful and I was honest with them," he said. "Bolton out-fought us, out-worked us and out pressured us and got their reward."
Adams thought he detected some improvement after his tirade, but the second half was still a story of Bolton going close, time and time again, to extending their lead. "We should have scored more," Megson said. "We made loads and loads of chances and you expect the quality of players we have to convert more of them."
The best of the second half opportunities fell to Elmander, when James fluffed a clearance and only just recovered, to Davies, who had a header cleared off the line and to Kevin Nolan, who fired wide. Gardner made a stunning run but shot into the side-netting. It was one of so many chances to make it a relaxing late afternoon at the Reebok; as it was, Gary Cahill's slice over his own bar in added time was a reminder of what Bolton profligacy could have cost them.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Taylor
Match rating: 7/10