If there was something indefinable missing from what should have been a full-blooded derby between two of the Premiership's in-form sides, perhaps it was the David Beckham circus.
After a tedious game in a sombre atmosphere, partly created by City fans staying away in their droves rather than pay £36, Sam Allardyce, the Bolton manager, revealed that he had asked whether Beckham, already surplus to requirements in Madrid, might like to spend the rest of the season at Middlebrook. The answer was no, so Bolton will concentrate on bringing in another David - Birmingham's Dunn - subject to medical reports.
Had Beckham been inclined to consider a short-term deal en route to Los Angeles, this would not have been the spectacle to convince him. For once, this was a match that justified Wanderers' traditional slot at the scrag end of Match of the Day. "We didn't create enough," Allardyce admitted. Didn't create anything would have been nearer the mark, as all Nicky Weaver had to do was make one rather unconvincing save from Nicolas Anelka.
Otherwise, the lack of impact from Anelka and his fellow forwards was evidence of how much City have improved since they were beaten 2-0 by Bolton at the City of Manchester Stadium three weeks ago, with the Frenchman scoring both goals.
Stuart Pearce, the City manager, said that day that his players needed to take a long, hard look at themselves, but if their attitude is better than it was before Christmas, then so is the way they are organised.
"You can see on the training ground that confidence is growing by the week," said Pearce's assistant, Steve Wigley. "We had to look to become a little bit tougher which is exactly what we have done. We've changed how we've played. We've gone to a back three and for the last five games been very resilient."
The combination of Micah Richards, Richard Dunne and Nedum Onuoha has given them that resilience. Wigley described Dunne as "colossal" in the middle of defence, but the youthful promise of the players either side of him was equally impressive. The talents of the 18-year-old Richards are well-known and much sought-after, but Onuoha, two years his senior, but deprived of almost a full season by injury, looked just as good a prospect.
With Kevin Davies eventually joining Kevin Nolan on the sidelines and El Hadji Diouf having one of his least effective games, Bolton lacked the key to unlock that quick and resourceful defence. Indeed, with the last 20 minutes approaching, they should have lost the game. Darius Vassell got to the byline and pulled back the most inviting of low crosses that just needed a tap-in from either Bernardo Corradi or Joey Barton to take all three points.
Corradi failed to make contact at all and Barton on the far post, shot into the side netting from point-blank range. Wigley tried to excuse him by arguing that he had done well even to get there, but the midfielder, back after his suspension for his sending-off in the sides' last meeting, knew just how bad a miss it was.
"I think I should have scored," he reflected. "It's disappointing because we could have turned a good result into an excellent result. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it would have gone in the net. It was just a freak miss, really."
Allardyce will take a close look at Davies today. "Kevin got a bad gash down his Achilles and ankle and it was too uncomfortable for him to continue," he said.
Bolton Wanderers (4-3-3): Jaaskelainen; Hunt, Ben Haim, Meite, Gardner; Tal (Teymourian, 65), Campo, Speed; Davies (Giannakopoulos, 62), Anelka, Diouf (Vaz Te, 80). Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Augustyn.
Manchester City (3-5-2): Weaver; Richards, Dunne, Onuoha; Sinclair, Barton, Dabo, Ireland, Distin; Corradi (Samaras, 71), Vassell (Miller, 90). Substitutes not used: Isaksson (gk), Beasley, Mills.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).
Booked: Bolton Wanderers Gardner, Tal; Manchester City Dabo, Barton.
Man of the match: Dunne.
Attendance: 22,334.Reuse content