Everton exploited Bolton's corridor of uncertainty to move into the top half of the Premier League table.
Bolton's disarray on the right side of their defence, the nadir of which was the early sending-off of David Wheater, was bound to be punished, even by opponents as goalshy as David Moyes' men.
"It was a massive turning point," said the Bolton manager, Owen Coyle, of this, his side's 10th defeat of a dismal season, which leaves them firmly planted in the bottom three.
Defensive injuries obliged Coyle to play Wheater out of position at right-back but it was not he who looked the uncertain defender in the first few minutes. That tag belonged to England centre-back Gary Cahill, now widely linked with a move to either Spurs or Chelsea in the January transfer window.
Despite that, it was Bolton who fashioned the first chance, Wheater passing the ball out of his own half, Kevin Davies stepping over it cleverly and the leading scorer, Ivan Klasnic, firing in a shot which was a little too close to Tim Howard.
In the 18th minute, there was disaster for Wheater and the Wanderers. A poor second touch from the former Middlesbrough man threatened to surrender possession to Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and the lunge to try to win back the ball took out the winger in mid-shin. Michael Oliver had his red card out of his pocket almost before the victim hit the ground and Wheater was off for the second time this season.
Coyle had few complaints."If your studs are showing, you leave yourself open to the red card," he said.
Bolton re-organised by pulling Nigel Reo-Coker out of midfield and into right-back. They continued to look the more incisive side going forward and created the best shooting chance so far when Chris Eagles cut in from the left and had his effort saved.
Everton went to the Reebok with no player having scored more than two goals this season – compared with the relatively prolific Klasnic's six – so it is clear where their problems lie.
Even with a one-man advantage and the bulk of possession, they could not carve out a decent opening, their only real threat coming from a John Heitinga free-kick after Kevin Davies had fouled Leighton Baines 20 yards out – and even that was comfortably saved by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
With Gary Cahill warming to the task of holding it all together, it looked conceivable Bolton might get away with playing short-handed, but all that changed three minutes into the second half.
Predictably, Everton exploited their vulnerable right flank, Bilyaltedinov whipped the ball across and Marouane Fellaini, recently having signed a new contract, was there to slam the ball into the roof of the net for his second goal of the season and first in the League.
Everton should have had a second when a lovely through-ball from Tim Cahill put Louis Saha in the clear, but his effort was weak and easily saved.
Wanderers' increasingly frenetic attempts to get back into the game yielded only a couple of half-chances for Klasnic, one blocked and one save.
It was all put beyond doubt 12 minutes from time when the Blues marauded down the same wing again. This time, the excellent Baines put the cross in, Tim Cahill hooked it back from beyond the far post and Apostolos Vellios, only four minutes after coming on, became the first Everton player to take his tally for the season to three. From such modest achievements is upward mobility earned.
Moyes can now survey the scene from the heady heights of eighth place. "That's the way the Premier League is this season," he said. "It's incredibly tight.
"I thought when they went down to 10 men we got a bit anxious on the ball, but they were really well-worked goals."
Bolton (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Wheater, Cahill, Knight, Robinson; M Davies, Muamba (Pratley, 61), Reo-Coker (Steinsson, 70), Eagles; K Davies (Tuncay, 70), Klasnic.
Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Heitinga, Baines; Coleman, Fellaini, Osman, Bilyaletdinov (Gueye, 89); Cahill (Barkley, 87), Saha (Vellios, 74).
Referee Michael Oliver.
Man of the match Baines (Everton).
Match rating 5/10.Reuse content