A fine headed goal from Joleon Lescott one minute from time gave Everton a victory to take them to second in the Premier League in a match of many chances that could have gone either way.
Lescott had already played a sterling role in defying Bolton at the other end, so it was fitting that it was the former Wolves defender who rose between Andy O'Brien and Jlloyd Samuel to meet Thomas Gravesen's corner and head firmly home.
With an unwanted symmetry this result left Bolton one off the bottom, although they had their opportunities in this game – 10 years to the day since the sides met in the Reebok Stadium's first match. "I'm bitterly disappointed for the players, because you don't always get what you deserve in football," said their manager, Sammy Lee. "The commitment they showed today was absolutely terrific."
That effort proved to be not quite enough, partly thanks to Everton's greater depth of talent. "I've got people behind me now I can bring on and change a game from the bench," David Moyes said, with particular reference to the return to the club, on loan from Celtic, of Gravesen.
"Thomas came on and gave us a bit of a calming influence," he said. "He didn't take much persuading to come back. He's back where he belongs."
Moyes also said that he had had strong words with Lescott during the interval about not winning a couple of headers. "I gave [him] stick at half- time," he said. "That's the way to make your manager shut up."
Moyes also had reason to be delighted with Yakubu Aiyegbeni's debut, after his protracted £11.2million transfer from Middlesbrough. It was his goal that put Everton ahead in the 11th minute, when Andrew Johnson latched onto Phil Jagielka's pass and Bolton's new central defender, Gerald Cid, dived in rashly on the halfway line, leaving Johnson with acres of room to run into.
Yakubu's finish might have looked simple, but Moyes drew attention to the movement in the box that put him in the clear to meet Johnson's low cross and side-foot in. "It was a terrific strike-partnership goal," he said, obviously relishing what could come from this pairing.
Not that Everton had this one all their own way. Nicolas Anelka and El Hadji Diouf were always posing problems and Mikel Alonso could have had a spectacular equaliser when he let fly from an angle and hit the junction of the woodwork. Eventually it was Anelka, who surprised most people in Bolton this week by agreeing a new four-year deal at the club, who brought Wanderers level. Diouf chipped the ball in from the left and the attempt at a clearing header only found Anelka, who hit a volley into the roof of the net for his fourth goal of the season. If Bolton are to pull themselves clear of the current predicament, that sort of potency is going to be of huge importance.
In an end-to-end contest, one which Lee described as "a bit too open", both sides had their chances of a winner before Lescott's decisive intervention. The best of the lot fell to the Bolton captain, Kevin Nolan, as he tried to connect with Diouf's ball to the far post but could not force it home.
Everton now sit proudly with only their neighbours Liverpool separating them from top spot in the Premier League table.
"I haven't even looked," said Moyes. "but I'd rather be there than anywhere else."Reuse content