It remains to be seen whether Sulley Muntari will move to Sunderland permanently come the summer, but he deserves to after the Internazionale loanee's shot led to the goal that won this game in the 90th minute as the visitors set about ending their poor 2011 record.
Winning for only the second time in 12 matches has put injury ravaged Sunderland in mid-table – too good to go down, not good enough for Europe.
Ivan Klasnic's 87th minute header following Rodrigo's intelligent cross seemed to be enough for Bolton Wanderers to extend Sunderland's winless agonies as it erased the advantage Sunderland had garnered thanks to a fine finish from the rejuvenated Bolo Zenden.
However, Muntari drilled an effort against Zat Knight that dribbled across the line to lift the pressure on Sunderland manager Steve Bruce, confirm Sunderland's Premier League safety, and was perhaps enough to win Muntari the Sunderland contract he so covets.
"There is a deal in place but nothing has been finalised," Bruce said of Muntari. "We will make a decision at the end of the season. I think the problem that Sulley has found is that he has not really played for six months. He won the Champions' League last year but didn't really play for Inter after that. He is just now getting fit to play in the Premier League and that has been the big problem for him – but we know he is a decent footballer."
Muntari stole the headlines but it was team-mate Zenden who was the cornerstone of this victory, scoring an impressive opener as Johan Elmander played him on-side following Stéphane Sessègnon's through ball, as well as co-ordinating and conspiring against an under-par Bolton team.
Sunderland looked decent, if slightly fractious, value for their win even though Kevin Davies and Daniel Sturridge missed a plethora of chances for Bolton. But Muntari arrived when needed to create the winner through an own goal and he'll be looking to get more next season.
"To be fair to them they defended their socks off but on another day we had enough chances to win two or three games," Bolton's manager Owen Coyle said. "To have no points from that game is a disappointment and hugely frustrating. They have not had the bounce of the ball recently but they had it today that is for sure."
Referee: Kevin Friend
Man of the match: Zenden
Match rating: 6/10