Although they finished together, this was a game of teams moving at different speeds. Bolton Wanderers are edging slowly towards Premier League survival; Aston Villa are racing towards an anti-climax.
Two months ago Villa appeared to have a Champions' League spot for the taking but they have gone 12 matches without a win in all competitions and fourth place in the Premier League looks about as likely as a Christmas present for Rafael Benitez from Sir Alex Ferguson.
This was only Villa's fourth league point from their last 27 and given the way they struggled in this match the end of the season cannot come quickly enough – even their goal, an intended cross from Ashley Young that sneaked in, was a fluke. Bolton, who equalised through Tamir Cohen, were no better but at least the result moved them fractionally further away from the bottom three.
Martin O'Neill, the Villa manager, conceded that fourth place is now unlikely. "We needed to win today to have any chance," he said. "I thought we were in control in the second half and were enjoying our best spell of sustained possession when they scored. It can always happen." Gary Megson, his Bolton counterpart, was satisfied with the result if not the performance. "I some ways it epitomised us," he said. "Not a lot of quality but hearts as big as buckets."
Villa's lack of confidence was embodied by Young in the opening minutes, two crosses going hopelessly awry. Not that Young was unique and the game was 20 minutes old before the first hint of a chance arrived, when John Carew passed to James Milner who cut inside from the right only for his shot to be blocked by Andy O'Brien.
Bolton replied with a move of their own that should have brought a goal after 32 minutes. A lovely curving pass from Kevin Davies was matched by cross from Matt Taylor but Fabrice Muamba swung with his left foot from five yards and failed to make contact. This seemed likely to be the defining moment of a poor first half but a minute before the interval Villa took the lead. Emile Heskey passed to Young whose cross was aimed at Carew's run. The ball was too high but the curl surprised Jussi Jaaskelainen and with the Bolton goalkeeper stuck on his line the ball hit the upright and bounced in.
The goal had two effects. The first was to invigorate Young, who began to resemble the outstanding winger of the autumn, and the second was to drag some lucidity from the hitherto incoherent Bolton. That was apparent immediately from the restart when Taylor crossed, Johan Elmander cushioned the ball with his head and Davies hit a volley wide.
It promised a more vigorous performance from the home side and that was realised on the hour. Bolton have lived off their set-pieces throughout their current spell in the top division and their goal came from the usual source. Taylor pumped a free-kick from the halfway line, Davies headed on and O'Brien's determination propelled the ball towards the penalty spot where Cohen hit a half volley past Brad Friedel.
Villa, attempting to gain their first success since 7 February, finished on the offensive but the closest they came to ending their depressing run came when Carew's header was tipped over the bar by Jaaskelainen with five minutes to go. In truth was very half-hearted. The best news for Villa yesterday was not at the Reebok but at Goodison Park.
Referee: Lee Probert
Man of the match: O'Brien
Match rating: 4/10