David Moyes and Sam Allardyce spent three weeks attempting to sign Roy Keane and 85 minutes on Saturday wondering why they bothered as their teams exchanged enough venom to make even the ruthless Irishman wince.
The Everton manager had more cause to rue the inspiration who got away as his side's spineless late collapse renewed relegation fears at Goodison Park, while Bolton continued their advance. In a devastating five-minute spell the visitors ruined Christmas for one half of Merseyside and doused the festive spirit at Marseilles too.
Beads of sweat will roll down the foreheads of the French club's scouts today as they deliver their report to their coach Jean Fernandez, who meets Bolton in the last 32 of the Uefa Cup in March. Unbridled aggression is heading his way, combined with an ability to inflict lethal wounds at the first sign of weakness.
Bolton's approach is admittedly something of an acquired taste, but with it has come constant improvement. Qualification for the Uefa Cup last season, for the first time, has created Champions' League expectations; they are now fifth in the Premiership, safely through the group stage in Europe and have a Carling Cup quarter-final at Wigan tomorrow.
"By the end of February we could be out of everything so you have to keep focused and not look too far ahead," insisted Gary Speed. "But the players have done fantastic so far because everyone wants to play in every game. No one likes missing games, but we have so many that it is such a strain on the squad."
Not that Bolton are averse to putting a strain on their opponents. Their battering ram, Kevin Davies, was booked inside 35 seconds for careering into Phil Neville but sent a looping header over Richard Wright to score on the visitors' first attack in the 32nd minute. Everton lost their composure in the moments before Davies' first goal since the opening day of the season and, given their failure to turn possession into opportunities, the game too.
James McFadden was denied an equaliser by a correct offside call in the 71st minute and then, in a period Moyes likened to park football, Everton imploded. David Weir, Nuno Valente and Leon Osman made three appalling errors that Bolton exploited through two sublime finishes by Stelios Giannakopoulos and Speed's penalty.
"I have never seen a crowd as aggressive as that in England," said Giannakopoulos. "In Greece, many times, but not here. It is a bad time for Everton, and I hope they pass through this. It is a big club going through a gloomy time." Not that Bolton have reason to care.
Goals: Davies (32) 0-1; Giannakopoulos (75) 0-2; Speed (pen79) 0-3; Giannakopoulos (80) 0-4.
Everton (4-4-2): Wright; Hibbert (Osman, 77), Yobo, Weir, Valente; Arteta, Neville, Cahill, Davies; McFadden, Beattie. Substitutes not used: Kroldrup, Bent, Turner (gk), Kilbane.
Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; O'Brien, Jaidi, N'Gotty, Speed; Faye (Djetou, 73); Diouf (Vaz Te, 72), Okocha (Hunt, 66), Nolan, Giannakopolis; Davies. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Nakata.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: Everton Hibbert, Neville; Bolton Davies, Faye.
Man of the match: Giannakopolis.