Few would argue with Sam Allardyce's post-match assertion: "That save by Jussi [Jaaskelainen] at the end showed we have the best keeper in the Premiership." The Bolton manager added: "He'd had very little to do all day, then he produced a save like that to bail the lads out." Although Fulham had been under Bolton's thumb for most of yesterday's encounter, Tomasz Radzinski might well have stolen back a point with his injury time header but for the Finn's lightning reactions.
With fewer than one third of the players who took the field at the Reebok Stadium yesterday being home-grown products, this truly was the battle of the foreign brigades.
Bolton, it was rumoured, would open with a 4-3-3 formation to increase flexibility, but this looked to cause more consternation for the hosts than their opponents in the early stages.
Michael Brown's initial bullishness on the ball and the menace of Heidar Helguson - surely one of the Premiership's most improved players - kept the Wanderers on the back foot for 22 minutes.
To say that Brown was furious with Nicolas Anelka when the Frenchman came to earth as a result of his tackle is an understatement. But Brown was probably foolhardy to execute his reverse tackle in such a crucial position in the first place. It was bound to end in tears, but certainly not Gary Speed's, for the Welshman relishes the chance to show his no-nonsense penalty-taking skills.
Beside the magic conjured up by El Hadji Diouf at his best, Anelka and Andranik were beginning to emerge as the game's seminal players and it was the former whose selfless play set up Tal Ben Haim for a stunning volley, which Jan Lastuvka stopped with a marvellous save.
Anelka went on to emerge as the best player on the pitch, but it was more by implication than achievement. Big Sam summed it up well. "Nicolas always looked as though he was going to cause Fulham trouble," Allardyce said. "He can turn a game in our favour even when nothing is going for us."
Once Bolton had reined back their route one tendencies, there was only one team in it and the Londoners had deteriorated into a collection of individuals. The expression on their manager Chris Coleman's face was just as indicative of this as the on-field evidence.
Any feelings the Londoners might have had that half-time could be a bridge back into the game were destroyed by Nicky Hunt's swirling cross, which Stelios nodded against the post, allowing Nolan to hammer home Bolton's second.
Coleman pushed on Alexei Smertin and Radzinski for the fading Brown and Volz with immediate effect as Zat Knight used height and length to ghost in front of the home defence and head home Simon Davies' corner.
Having lost the talismanic Speed with an enforced substitution, Bolton seemed reluctant to recognise that coasting was no longer an option. Vincenzo Montella entered the fray as a possible trump card, but the Cottagers could not take advantage of the Trotters' obvious eye towards Wednesday, when they entertain Arsenal in a FA Cup replay.
Even so, Radzinski then came mighty close with a header which brought the save of the season. Coleman bewailed the effect that travelling to Lancashire has on his men. "It's when we travel to the North-west. We're out of the game by half-time. We always lie too deep."
Goals: Speed pen (23) 1-0; Nolan (51) 2-0; Knight (66) 2-1.
Bolton (4-3-3): Jaaskelainen; Hunt, Meite, Ben Haim, Gardner; Nolan, Speed (Thompson, 68), Stelios; Andranik (Tal, 81), Anelka, Diouf (Pedersen, 86). Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Vaz Te.
Fulham (4-4-2): Lastuvka; Rosenior, Knight, Christanval, Quedrue; Volz (Radzinski, 62), Brown (Smertin, 62), Bouba Diop, Davies; Helguson (Montella, 67), McBride. Substitutes not used: Warner (gk), Routledge.
Referee: H Webb (Yorkshire).
Booked: Bolton Thompson; Fulham Brown, Helguson, Davies.
Man of the match: Anelka.
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