Owen Coyle must be cursing winning the Barclays Manager of the Month award. Instead of capitalising on the accolade – something the manager wrote about in his programme notes – Bolton served up an abject display as they succumbed to a 3-0 defeat at home to Fulham, which leaves them deep in the relegation mire.
This type of result is notorious for a manager on the receiving end of the prize, as two goals from Clint Dempsey and a late Mahamadou Diarra effort sealed a comfortable win for Fulham – only their third victory away from Craven Cottage this season. Although a fourth straight win would have been a big ask, Coyle will be furious that his team did not show more in the second half – a lack of attacking nous galling throughout.
"We scrapped in the second half but didn't have any gilt-edged chances," he said. "The goals were easily avoidable. It was a poor free-kick to give away for the first goal and then we've completely given the second one away. As we tried to get a goal back late on we were caught on the counter-attack. We are looking for players to sense danger."
Although Wanderers were tenacious as a unit, it was just a case of Martin Jol's creative quartet across the midfield biding their time until the right moment to turn the screw.
The energetic Bolton engine room were guilty of being over-zealous going forward, affording Bryan Ruiz space. He cleverly slipped Dempsey in behind, but just as the American found the net, the flag was, correctly, raised for offside.
But Dempsey did not have to wait long for his goal. David Ngog, who had been defending admirably from the front, was penalised for a trip on Diarra some 30 yards from goal, and from that free-kick Dempsey bent a wicked strike beyond Adam Bogdan. In a season where he has been a thorn in many teams' sides, Dempsey was in the mood and doubled his tally shortly after.
Damien Duff, who had been tormenting Marcos Alonso all afternoon, once again tricked his way past the fullback before an unmarked Dempsey met the cross perfectly, heading home his second of the day and an astonishing 21st in all competitions, much to the delight of his manager. "To say that most of his goals have come from wide areas, it is amazing," Jol remarked.
The quick-fire double was perhaps unjust after a previously even encounter, but Coyle felt it best not to wait and see how the second half panned out, changing the game's dynamic with a double substitution at the break, sending on Kevin Davies and Chris Eagles for Darran Pratley and Ryo Miyaichi and so going with two up front.
While Eagles gave the hosts more life out wide, the manager's decision was not vindicated. Duff again teased Alonso before his drive was beaten away, and Dempsey should have completed his hat-trick after a one-two with Moussa Dembélé, inexplicably side-footing wide.
The visitors always looked the more likely, failing to capitalise on countless situations in which they had men over. Many opportunities came and went before Bolton's central defensive pair Tim Ream and David Wheater were once again left woefully exposed as John Arne Riise marauded down the left to find Diarra to tap in the third from close range.
Eagles spurned a late chance, summing up what was an awful day, but Jol was keen to stress that his team deserved the plaudits. "To come here and win after their run of form is very good. I'm very pleased with all the guys – we earned the right to play football," he said. Coyle cut a frustrated figure: "We could have opened up the gap between ourselves and the bottom three so it is disappointing."
Bolton (4-5-1): Bogdan; Ricketts, Wheater, Ream, Alonso; Miyaichi (Eagles, 45), Pratley (K Davies, 45), Reo-Coker, M Davies, Petrov; Ngog (Klasnic, 60).
Fulham (4-1-4-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise; Diarra; Duff (Frei, 83), Ruiz (Etuhu, 73), Dembélé, Kacaniklic (Trotta, 88); Dempsey.
Referee M Dean.
Man of the match Dempsey (Fulham).
Match rating 6/10.Reuse content