Kevin Davies's 100th career League goal spoiled Kevin MacDonald's last day in caretaker charge of Aston Villa but it may have done Gérard Houllier a favour. A third home win yesterday would have masked some of the problems facing the 63-year-old Frenchman when he takes his first training session tomorrow.
Villa started brightly and led through an Ashley Young free-kick but Bolton offered a superior threat after Davies' 35th-minute equaliser and their opponents were grateful to goalkeeper Brad Friedel by the finish.
MacDonald bows out after two wins, two defeats and a draw in the Premier League since the sudden pre-season departure of Martin O'Neill. "I think Gérard knows there is something to work with," he said. Asked if he felt he had been given a fair crack of the whip, he added: "Yes. And I think we have conducted ourselves well." His next assignment is Sunderland at home in the reserves tomorrow week.
Villa have confirmed that Gary McAllister will become Houllier's assistant manager before Wednesday's Carling Cup tie against Blackburn. The Scot, who managed Coventry City and Leeds United before his most recent stint alongside Gordon Strachan at Middlesbrough, was labelled by Houllier as his "most inspirational signing" during their time together at Liverpool.
Gordon Cowans, a League and European Cup winner at the club, steps up from his role with the youth side to first-team coach. MacDonald has called on Houllier, whose last Premier League game in charge of Liverpool was on 15 May 2004, to continue Villa's productive youth policy and Cowans will have been impressed by the zip and enthusiasm shown by England Under-21 midfielder Marc Albrighton, who twice forced early saves from Adam Bogdan.
Davies shot narrowly wide after Richard Dunne's careless pass but all the pressure was at the other end, where Bolton were struggling to cope with the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor and the vision of Young and Stewart Downing.
They were not helped when Andy O'Brien, playing in place of the suspended former Villa centre-half Gary Cahill, limped off after 17 minutes, by which time Villa were ahead.
Fabrice Muamba felled Young outside the area after 13 minutes and the livewire No 7 curled an exquisite free-kick over the Bolton wall and out of Bogdan's reach.
Bolton, beaten here 5-1 last season, gradually got a foothold courtesy of the indomitable Davies. He had not trained after suffering a blow to the head during the 4-1 defeat at Arsenal last week but he was alert enough to finish off a flowing move involving Lee Chung-Yong, Stuart Holden and Martin Petrov.
Bolton finished the half the stronger team and had a decent penalty shout when Dunne felled Johan Elmander.
The game was finely poised after the restart and Friedel had to be alert to tip Petrov's volley over and save from Holden. Friedel also had to deal with substitute Matthew Taylor's low free-kick seven minutes from time and Elmander's late shot. "A top-class keeper," Bolton's manager Owen Coyle observed.
Villa's increasingly anxious fans called for John Carew's introduction to test 22-year-old Bogdan in the air and MacDonald duly delivered, but the big striker offered little threat.
"They were in the ascendancy after Young's goal," Coyle said. "They were up for it. You only had to see how they celebrated to show their affection for Kevin. He's done a good job.
"But from then on in we did well and truth be told we could have won. I'd have taken a draw at the beginning. But the game was there to be won, as we have good offensive players." None better than Davies.