A conversation between two Watford supporters on the way to the ground yesterday said everything about the club's situation. "How do you reckon we'll do in the Championship next season?'' one asked. The fact that the match ball was sponsored by a funeral director can only have added to their gloom at the conclusion yesterday.
After losing 4-0 to Manchester United on Wednesday, Watford's manager, Aidy Boothroyd, had made the relevant point that despite the recent selling of Ashley Young to Aston Villa for £8 million, his budget for bringing in new players was about four per cent that of United's.
So, apart from buying Lee Williamson from Rotherham for £1m, he has to be satisfied with the club laying out the price of a detached house in the more upmarket part of town for Gareth Williams (from Leicester City), extending the loan periods of others and offering employment to some obscure immigrants. After all, in what Premiership can a player of any substance join a club that all season have been on the fast track to relegation?
Of the new signings, only Williamson started in yesterday's team. He tried to busy himself around midfield but looked a little bemused, as did the Watford defenders, who unexpectedly found themselves facing Nicolas Anelka, although it had been reported that he was ruled out through injury. But Bolton were without Kevin Davies, which often left Anelka as the lone permanent striker.
Watford, as is their way, hustled and chased, lost the ball as often as they gained it and usually ran out of inspiration on the edge of their opponents' penalty area. Bolton began uneasily, with that indecision that comes after a period when results have not gone well and injury has been a factor. They were fortunate that when Watford did turn a lot of possession into a positive chance, Jay DeMerit headed a few inches over.
When Bolton did finally decide to raise the pressure, Watford were on their heels and vulnerable. In the 40th minute, Anelka's humming shot was palmed up by Ben Foster and only partially cleared, allowing El Hadji Diouf to place the ball back in the faces of the Watford defenders. Gary Speed could not quite reach it before them.
Williamson lasted until half- time before being replaced by Williams. That slightly increased Watford's physical strength but really that was not, and never has been, one of their problems. Not that Bolton could claim much high ground in terms of skill. It was dour stuff all round, and summed up when Watford's Adrian Mariappa cruised the ball across the yawning emptiness of the Bolton goalmouth only to see not a single team-mate move in to accept the invitation.
Around the hour Bolton assembled several moderately effective attacks which culminated in the 62nd minute with a corner from Speed being only slightly deflected by the fist of Foster. The ball fell to Anelka and his drive was unstoppable. "The only bit of quality all day," as Bolton's manager, Sam Allardyce, said.
Bolton looked relieved rather than excited. In their recent discomfort, it was understandable. They did not have to do anything out of the ordinary to overcome this Watford, who, Boothroyd finally admitted, "will go down if we play like that". He added: "It was a bad game and we contributed to that enormously."