Kevin Nolan, a Merseysider captaining Bolton for the first time at the age of 19, snatched the goal that earned them a point yesterday their fourth against Liverpool this season towards their survival effort.
Liverpool would have returned to the top of the Premiership if they had avenged their August defeat at the Reebok stadium but, despite taking the lead through Steven Gerrard shortly after half-time, they never truly deserved to win. It could have been worse, because Bolton's late-goal expert, Michael Ricketts, came desperately close to grabbing all three points in injury time.
From the start there was an off-colour look about a Liverpool team who have suddenly become vulnerable at home, with only one real chance during the first half, and that courtesy of a Bolton mistake. Colin Hendry was trying to clear, but only steered the ball into Michael Owen, who was denied by Jussi Jaaskelainen's feet.
Hendry, labouring under the twin handicap of a knee injury and an early booking, was replaced soon afterwards, but the redeployment of Paul Warhurst in central defence did Bolton no harm at all.
Wanderers had found it hard to create clear-cut chances, but they had two before half-time that could have got past a less alert goalkeeper than Jerzy Dudek. Per Frandsen produced the first with a completely unexpected shot from 35 yards out at a wide angle, which the Pole back-pedalled to push away.
Straight away, Frandsen got the ball in from the left and Dudek did equally well not just to save, but to hold Ricketts' arching header.
Having survived that double warning, Liverpool took the lead five minutes into the second half, Gerrard cutting in from the left. Invited to carry on, he clipped the ball past Jaaskelainen and Liverpool were apparently on their way back to top spot.
"We should have had the game out of the way,'' said Liverpool's Phil Thompson, who has seen his side take six points from their last six matches. You're always looking for a second goal because you know, what with Bolton's fighting qualities, one might not be enough.''
Despite the introduction of Nicolas Anelka as an extra attacker, Liverpool could not get that clinching goal and, 11 minutes from time, Bolton realised Thompson's fears.
Djibril Diawara made enough of a nuisance of himself to oblige Dudek to punch, Henrik Pedersen played the ball in and caught the defence flat-footed for Nolan to volley in at the far post.
"It was like a dream come true for me,'' said the Liverpudlian, whom many believe will one day be an England midfielder and who was only told at the pre-match meal that he would be wearing the captain's armband made available by Gudni Bergsson's injury.
"That's three goals in four games over Christmas and he's been outstanding in every game," said Bolton's manager Sam Allardyce, "even though we haven't got the results we've needed.''
Bolton could have completed a memorable double over Liverpool if Ricketts, twisting and turning away from his markers, had not seen his dipping shot tipped over by Dudek in injury time. Ricketts saved a point for nine-man Bolton in injury time against Leicester on Saturday and won three against Manchester United equally late in the day.
"I had visions of Old Trafford again when he did that,'' Allardyce said. Ricketts could not quite repeat the trick, but it was further evidence of the resilience that should yet see Bolton safe.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek 7; Wright 5, Henchoz 6, Hyypia 6, Riise 6, Smicer 5 (Anelka 5, 67), Gerrard 6, Hamann 5, Berger 5 (Litmanen, 85), Owen 5, Heskey 5. Substitutes not used: McAllister, Kirkland (gk), Carragher.
Bolton Wanderers (3-5-2): Jaaskelainen 7; Diawara 6, Hendry 5 (Farrelly 5, 31), N'Gotty 6, Southall 5, Frandsen 7, Warhurst 7, Nolan 7, Charlton 5, Ricketts 6, Holdsworth 5 (Pedersen 5, 71). Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Barness, Johnson.
Referee: C Wilkes (Gloucester) 5.Reuse content