Roy Hodgson had asked Liverpool's supporters to reserve judgement on his regime until they had played 10 matches. This was game 10 and Liverpool finished it 12th, which given the fact they have spent the last few weeks as improbable occupants of the relegation zone counts as something of a triumph. It may be worth pointing out that should they finish 12th, it will be Liverpool's worst performance since before Bill Shankly created the modern Anfield.
Nevertheless, after back-to-back wins in the Premier League and a fine rearguard performance amid the eddying passions of Napoli's San Paolo Stadium, the rot that threatened to eat through the club has been stopped.
Hodgson will spend some of this week meeting with the club's new owner, and the relief that he will do so with John Henry's latest acquisition out of the bottom three was obvious.
"We have contact on an almost daily basis because he is very interested in how the club can move forward which is music to my ears," said the Liverpool manager. "I am delighted we are doing it on the back of a victory because a defeat would have dragged our mood down. We live in a world of euphoria or tragedy and, as a manager, you try to keep an even keel between the two emotions but, yes, I am very glad we are not meeting the owners in the relegation zone."
Nevertheless, not even Jamie Carragher thought they played well and remarked that neither side really deserved victory. Liverpool are recovering but they remain propped up in bed, on a drip and with a sign that reads nil by mouth.
Nil was the optimum word at the Reebok Stadium and remained fixed beneath both teams' badges on the scoreboard until, with four minutes remaining, a little flick from Fernando Torres went between Gary Cahill's legs and was finished off with aplomb by Maxi Rodriguez, whose shot squeezed under Jussi Jaaskelainen's body.
It was Torres's single real contribution to the evening. He had looked dreadfully out of sorts, summed up by a move in which he received the ball in a shooting position, hesitated when once he would have struck without thinking, and lost possession.
"Front players live by such small margins," said Hodgson. "Perhaps he was thinking of taking the ball round Jussi Jaaskelainen but could see the headlines: 'Torres Misses Again.' We think he is a magnificent player and over the course of the next 30-odd games we know he will do well."
Hodgson smiled when asked if he looked ready to explode with anger throughout much of the match. "I was frustrated. We had such a lot of the ball and so many opportunities which we wasted with the final ball. In another world and with a better start to the season we would have had the composure to deal with that. The one thing that pleased me is that we have stopped leaking goals. It is still too early to be optimistic but it is a step in the right direction."
Liverpool are likely to have both Dirk Kuyt and Glen Johnson back for next Sunday's encounter with Chelsea, although Joe Cole came off with a hamstring injury midway through the second half.
On paper, Hodgson was bequeathed a far better side than Rafael Benitez inherited from Gérard Houllier. However, the spine of that team has not functioned in a way his predecessor would have recognised. Steven Gerrard, like his great friend, Wayne Rooney, is a player shorn of the aura and swagger that used to carry him and his team through so much.
His passing was astray, his free-kicks lacked their former menace and you no longer expected the extraordinary from the greatest footballer Anfield has seen since Kenny Dalglish. Like Torres, his form will return but for now Gerrard had to put up with the humiliation of being dispossessed by Johan Elmander and his rare shots thud into advertising hoardings demanding that people visit Cyprus.
Bolton were not at their best but they probably deserved a draw and could have had a penalty had Carragher's handball been spotted. Pepe Reina, perhaps the only one of Hodgson's blue-chip players to be truly on form, was troubled throughout by Matt Taylor's free-kicks and was equal to them all.
"I felt the result was cruel on the team given the endeavour we put in," Owen Coyle reflected afterwards. "We dominated for large periods of time and it was a clear handball against Carragher. I don't want to moan and I will keep saying that these decisions even themselves out over time – in which case we are owed about 20 decisions before Christmas."
Man of the match Muamba. Match rating 5/10
Possession Bolton 50% Liverpool 50%
Shots on target Bolton 10 Liverpool 4
Referee M Atkinson (Yorkshire) Att 25,171Reuse content