City, humiliated by Bolton immediately before Christmas, would have exacted full, prompt and satisfying revenge but for a candidate for miss of the season. In a dull, featureless game of few chances, Bernardo Corradi and Joey Barton both contrived to spurn an open goal a little more than 20 minutes from the merciful end of proceedings.
The other way of looking at their joint omission was that it left a natural goalless draw unsullied, because this was a contest that had stalemate written all over it from the start.
The one chance of avoiding that fate came in the 69th minute when Trevor Sinclair, one of a five-man midfield who tried with limited success to outflank Wanderers, got to the byline and pulled the ball back across the face of goal with Jussi Jaaskelainen stranded. Corradi, the Italian international, should have tapped it in but missed it completely, leaving Barton at the far post with the equally simple task of putting it away.
Barton was sent off when the two sides last met, on 23 December, and he suffered a disaster of a different sort when he managed to put the ball the wrong side of the post and into the side netting. He put his head into his hands and thankfully did not miss then as well.
City's assistant manager, Steve Wigley, holding court in the absence of Stuart Pearce, who was quickly away from the ground on a scouting mission, was inclined to be charitable towards the hard-working Barton. "Joey broke his neck to get to the far post and the ball bobbled up," he said. "Those are the opportunities you need to take, but we didn't."
Bolton's Sam Allardyce agreed that his side had benefited from an escape. "The best chance for both sides, we got away with," he said. "It was a below-par performance from us I must admit, but it was a difficult game with City's rearguard playing so well."
Little did Bolton, with six wins in their previous seven matches, imagine that a chance that fell to their full-back Nicky Hunt in the first minute would turn out to be one of their best. Gary Speed, captaining the Wanderers in place of Kevin Nolan, who failed a fitness test on a rib injury, laid the ball back and Hunt side-footed wide on the volley. It was all downhill from there.
Apart from that early effort, the only real openings were a header from Ivan Campo that was possibly on its way in but for Richard Dunne's intervention and a shot from Nicolas Anelka, both in the second half.
Anelka scored the two goals that beat City at the City of Manchester stadium three weeks ago, but a combination of Dunne, the much-coveted Micah Richards and Nedum Onuoha kept a tight grip on him and on Kevin Davies and El Hadji Diouf. The one exception was when Anelka forced the only real save of the match from Nicky Weaver and the rebound narrowly failed to fall for Stelios Giannokopoulos as the Greek international midfielder followed up.
The only consolation Allardyce could find was that Bolton had produced a substandard performance and managed not to lose, as they did in the equivalent game against Wigan last season, triggering a run of four 1-0 defeats in five games.
For City to come away from the Reebok with a draw, however, shows how they have toughened up over the past few weeks.Reuse content