The 5-0 defeat in last season's Wembley FA Cup semi-final to Stoke had hung around the neck of the Bolton manager Owen Coyle, albatross-like, for seven months yet even the keenest student of football's vagaries could not have predicted this outcome.
Two goals each from Chris Eagles, unstoppable on the Bolton wing, and Ivan Klasnic, plus a controversial opening effort from Kevin Davies, brought Bolton some much-needed revenge and ended a depressing run of 13 defeats in the 16 league games since that shoddy display in April.
Perhaps it was the apparent magnitude of the victory that had Coyle looking for reasons beyond the corporeal to explain events. "Last night when I went to mass, the local priest was brilliant and said 'Let's pray for the Wanderers'," smiled Coyle. "So I knew He was onside as well."
God found a willing accomplice in Stoke's under-performing players, none more than Bosnian goalkeeper Asmir Begovic who virtually gifted the home side a two-goal start. The first, after just 94 seconds, came when Howard Webb judged Glenn Whelan had deliberately passed the ball back to Begovic – who then allowed Klasnic to take the ball and a quick free-kick, for Davies to convert into an empty net, to much Stoke anger.
Credit the City manager Tony Pulis, therefore, for shunning the easy option of blaming Webb, or his players' midweek round trip to Israel for the Europa League, and instead focusing on their limp effort.
"Forget the first goal, we still had over 90 minutes to put it right and we just didn't compete," he said. "If you put together a list of the worst three or four games in the eight and a half years I have managed this club, this drops into the worst performances.
"I understand excuses. We played Monday, Thursday, Sunday. It took us eight hours to get from Stoke to our hotel in Tel Aviv this week and nine and a half hours to get back.
"But I'm not going to use that. That doesn't explain why we didn't tackle, challenge and run around."
Initially Stoke's response was spirited, though Peter Crouch miskicked badly in front of goal from Jermaine Pennant's sixth-minute centre. But on 23 minutes Begovic, under pressure from Klasnic, made a weak clearance of a Robert Huth back-pass and the ball fell to Eagles on the left-hand corner of the Stoke box. With the keeper back-pedalling furiously, the winger struck a superb shot into the bottom corner of the vacant net.
Game over. Huth was at fault for the third goal, on 61 minutes, his lame clearance presenting the ball to Eagles who linked with Paul Robinson, the full-back in turn squaring for Klasnic who swung a magnificent left-foot shot into the bottom corner.
On 73 minutes Kevin Davies and Klasnic again linked well, the Croatian producing a delightful touch that played in Eagles on goal after 73 minutes. The former Manchester United winger advanced into the area and showed great composure before lifting the ball over on-rushing Begovic.
Eagles and Klasnic combined again on 81 minutes when the winger's corner was nodded on powerfully by defender David Wheater and Klasnic, no more than six yards out, directed in his second goal with his head.
"There is no getting away from the level of performance and how crucial this win was," said a relieved Coyle. "When you have made a slow start, as we have, every game becomes bigger."
Substitutes: Bolton Wanderers Tuncay (Klasnic, 85), Pratley (Reo-Coker,89), Knight (Riley, 90). Stoke City Higginbotham 5 (Wilkinson, 68), Jones 5 (Pennant, 69), Whitehead 5 (Whelan, 69). Booked: Bolton None. Stoke Walters. Man of the match Klasnic.
Match rating 7/10.
Possession Bolton 60% Stoke 40%.
Attempts on target Bolton 16 Stoke 6.
Referee H Webb (S Yorkshire). Attendance 20,028.Reuse content