Reminded that a victory over Manchester City 13 months ago had revived Bolton's season and spared them a struggle against relegation, Gary Megson replied with a sigh: "That was £220 million ago."
The last month has proved beyond question that money has not changed Manchester City; they remain the same fallible, thrilling and frustrating side they always were. Francis Lee or Georgi Kinkladze would have recognised that performance, although they would have admired the way Manchester City, reduced to 10 men, fought their way back into the contest, with Carlos Tevez scoring twice from the edge of the area.
That they at least earned a point would have come as a relief, but Mark Hughes turned on the referee, Mark Clattenburg, who by playing six minutes of stoppage time in the Manchester derby had cost him a point in another high-scoring, thrilling contest. Yesterday, his decision to show Craig Bellamy a second yellow card for diving, when Paul Robinson appeared to trip the Welshman, was more than Hughes could stand.
"It was a laughable decision," he reflected. "At the speed Craig is going, it doesn't take much to trip him and that is what happened. There was no suggestion that he dived and it was not the first poor decision that referee made. The first Bolton goal was clearly offside and it was not a difficult decision to make.
"A member of my staff has been down to see him and we are not impressed by his excuses. I also do not appreciate him passing comment to members of my staff as he ran out for the second half about which players he does and does not like."
Nevertheless, Bolton's satisfaction at securing a point after an embarrassing defeat at Wolverhampton the previous week which had pushed Megson's regime to the very edge was tempered by the realisation that they ought to have won.
"We don't seem to be a club blessed with luck," Megson said afterwards, although this is true of every team who find themselves in the relegation zone. "Both Carlos Tevez's goals took deflections, one off Tamir Cohen, the other from Paul Robinson. We might have had a penalty [when Micah Richards under no pressure handled in the area]. But at 3-2 up and against 10 men, we should have seen it out."
However, if Megson's always unsteady regime is at its tipping point, it is going down with a fight, and on this evidence it would be hard to press the usual charge laid against a struggling manager – that he had "lost the dressing room". From their pre-match huddle to the final whistle, greeted with applause, this was the old, aggressive in-your-face Bolton, the team which Sam Allardyce created, and sometimes it was too much for Manchester City.
Having beaten Arsenal and Chelsea, City found themselves once more dragged back by the kind of team they yearn to escape. Ivan Klasnic probably had no need to stick out his boot to deflect home Chung Yong Lee's shot, which would have beaten Shay Given in any case.
There was no dispute, after Tevez had equalised, about Bolton's second, a wonderful turn and shot on the edge of the area from Gary Cahill, delivered with the aplomb of a centre-forward rather than a centre-half. Kevin Davies said that Cahill fancies himself as a striker, and if Fabio Capello is searching for a goalscoring defender, he is a better bet than most.
It was, however, a lead that Bolton, who have yet to manage a clean sheet this season, clung on to for barely a minute as Bellamy's surgically precise pass was buried past Jussi Jaaskelainen by Richards, another defender with a forward's instincts.
Nevertheless, Bolton began after the break with the same aggression they had displayed in the first half, and which had been almost entirely absent in the defeat at Wolves that had driven the club into crisis. Klasnic's second goal, a beautiful volley, appeared legitimate but Bellamy, predictably, disputed it, triggering a sequence of events that was to have serious consequences for the player, Manchester City and the referee.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Man of the match: Tevez
Match rating: 8/10Reuse content