Another game, another goal of white-hot debate, another case, perhaps, for video replays and goal-line technology. Assistant referee Bernard Baker waved his flag here to confirm that Kevin Nolan's 31st-minute flick had crossed the line. But could he be sure?
Crystal Palace manager Iain Dowie certainly wasn't. "We have had a goal against us which the wonders of modern technology cannot find the answer for," he said, in reference to the inconclusive television pictures. "But a linesman 45 yards away can." Mr Baker was adamant - but did not help his cause by admitting that his view was slightly impaired by a Palace defender.
Watching the hullabaloo from across the pitch was Mike Tingey. Last week he had been the assistant referee who had intervened to help award the injury-time penalty that knocked Portsmouth out of the FA Cup. Both decisions were marginal. Both, also, benefited Southampton who instead of seeing the gap at the bottom between themselves and Palace grow watched Dowie's side throw a match away.
It hurt even more for Palace because all week they have nursed an understandable sense of grievance over the harsh dismissal of Gonzalo Sorondo at West Bromwich. Instead of six points Dowie has one.
Bolton Wanderers, meanwhile, achieved a seventh successive victory, but looked a pale shadow of a side able to boast such a record. Their acute defensive frailty made their tally of just conceding three times in eight games somewhat extraordinary.
Even without the controversy Palace should have been out-of-sight given the opportunities they spurned and, to his credit, Dowie came clean. It was not because of Nolan's goal that Palace lost, he said. The catalogue was amazing. Chief among them was a miss from three yards, after the re-start, with the goal wide open, by Andy Johnson. Palace's top scorer apologised in the dressing room later. "He does not have to say sorry," Dowie said. "We should be apologising to him."
Johnson has carried his team's threat all season. He played well again here but the chances were spread around. On nine minutes Bolton goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen plucked the ball from Wayne Routledge's feet when he was through, on 15 minutes Danny Granville headed over, on 20 minutes Johnson poked his shot into the side-netting.
It continued after the break. On 51 minutes Dougie Freedman was set free only to see his effort blocked by Jaaskelainen, then came Johnson's amazing miss which was followed by a low curling shot by the striker which was saved. Then, at the death, and with the Palace goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly in the Bolton penalty area, in came another corner. It bounced around before Granville, with a clear sight of goal, sliced wildly and wide. It summed up Palace's afternoon.
"Our performance was never stunning but it was dogged and determined," said the Bolton manager Sam Allardyce. The rub of the green, he said, is going their way. For the goal Mikele Leigertwood had headed a chip by Stelios Giannakopoulos off the line and in the scramble Nolan forced the ball goalwards. Emmerson Boyce cleared, then Baker intervened.
"The luck was on our side," Nolan admitted. Bolton, to be fair, had chances. Kiraly saved smartly from Gary Speed's header while substitute Henrik Pedersen chipped into his arms when clear. Nolan had no doubts that his goal was genuine, however. "Of course it was," he said. "I'm never going to say it wasn't, am I?" Indeed.Reuse content