Until Gary Speed's last-gasp penalty for Bolton, this had the makings of a classic morality tale as the masters of "high-tempo" or "direct" football - or whatever other euphemism you may wish to use - were unsettled and very nearly undone by a Watford side deploying those tactics against them.
"People were saying it was rubbish," said the Bolton manager, Sam Allardyce. "But it takes two to tango. I'm not being critical of Watford when I say that, because they need to play the way they play. From the entertainment point of view it doesn't stand up, but it brought them a lot of success apart from putting the ball in the back of the net.
"We haven't come across that style too often and we had to make sure we combated it, and we didn't, certainly for the first 20 minutes. That became a little bit of a concern. They'll be bitterly disappointed they got nothing out of the game, but that's the lesson they have to learn. It tells the story that if you don't take your chances you don't get what you deserve."
Three times Watford hit the woodwork - through Damien Francis, Ashley Young and Malky Mackay - and Jussi Jaaskelainen was the busier goalkeeper, andthey went home thinking they deserved more. Their manager, Adrian Boothroyd, was characteristically bullish.
"You have to focus on performances over a longer period of time," he said. "Even when you win you can learn things and that's what we'll do. There were lots of errors from both teams, but you can't do what we did and expect to win."
One error proved decisive, four minutes into stoppage time, as Danny Shittu, having forced Idan Tal away from goal, took a needless swipe at the ball, missed, and clipped the Israeli.
That aside, there were positives for Watford. They even forced Allardyce to switch his system nine minutes before half-time, as Abdoulaye Faye was redeployed in central defence to cope with Darius Henderson, with Tal Ben Haim switching to right-back.
They also managed to deflate the arrival of Bolton's record signing, the £8.5m goalscorer Nicolas Anelka. He did not come close to a goal, but after Bolton's defeat at the Valley a fortnight ago, his presence in the side was understandable.
"We went to Charlton and completely dominated, missed a penalty, then they went down to 10 men, but we couldn't find the net ourselves, then we went down to 10 and they pinched the game," Allardyce said. That may justify this result to Bolton, but it will be little consolation to Boothroyd.
Goals: Speed pen (90) 1-0.
Bolton Wanderers (4-3-3): Jaaskelainen; Hunt (Vaz Te, 35), Ben Haim, Meite, Fortune; Campo, Faye, Speed; Diouf (Andranik, 86), Anelka (Tal, 70), Nolan. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Fojut.
Watford (4-4-2): Foster; Doyley, Mackay, Shittu, Stewart; Smith (Jarrett, 71), Mahon, Francis, Young; King, Henderson. Substitutes not used: Lee (gk), DeMerit, Bangura, Spring.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Durham).
Booked: Bolton Nolan, Meite, Fortune; Watford Mackay.
Man of the match: Ben Haim.
Attendance: 21,140.Reuse content