You know tensions are running high when members of the same team threaten to come to blows. It happened here 10 minutes before half-time when the Wolves goalkeeper, Wayne Hennessey, squared up to his captain, Roger Johnson, with such apparently hostile intent that referee Jon Moss had to come between them.
Then again, this was a match that neither camp had attempted to play down as the battle to stay up enters its decisive phase. In the event, it may have been the moment that the fate of one was decided. Five consecutive defeats – seven in a row at home – leaves Wolves six points adrift of safety with the worst goal difference in the division.
Bolton can by no means look upon their survival prospects with confidence, but after three consecutive wins – the first time they have managed that since December 2006 – they are a point outside the bottom three with a match in hand on all three sides in the relegation places.
There was a contentious element to the result. Mark Davies, the Bolton midfielder, appeared to fall over unassisted to win the penalty from which his side equalised. But Wolves, who had been the dominant side to that point, let in two further goals for which they could blame only themselves.
Terry Connor, the interim manager since Mick McCarthy was sacked, did his best to sound defiant. "There are still points to play for and until it is not possible for us to get enough we will keep fighting," he said. "We dominated for an hour and it was a very dubious penalty."
However, the fact was they should have been comfortably ahead, rather than vulnerable to twists of fate. In the first half, which Bolton had spent pinned inside their own half, Wolves had summoned up the spirit they could have done with a month or so ago. Yet they could not make it count.
At times, credit was due to Bolton for that. Adam Bogdan made two brave close-range saves to keep out a shot by Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and a header from Steven Fletcher, who had another stopped on the line by midfielder Ryo Miyaichi.
But in the moments before half-time, Ebanks-Blake scooped the ball over after fine work by Matt Jarvis and Fletcher met a superb Michael Kightly cross but clipped the top of the bar with his header. When Kightly did put Wolves in front, beating Bogdan with a well-placed diagonal left-foot shot after cutting inside full back Marcos Alonso on the right, it seemed momentarily that those misses might not matter. But then came the penalty incident.
Johnson, in the thick of things throughout, stuck out a foot as Davies advanced on goal but made only minimal contact if any. Yet the Bolton player – Wolverhampton-born and a graduate of the Wolves academy, to make matters worse – went down in the next stride. There was no concerted appeal but referee Moss pointed to the spot anyway.
It was a big moment for Martin Petrov, who took the kick. The Bulgarian international – affected along with all the Bolton players by the fate of colleague Fabrice Muamba– is unrelated to but a close friend of Stiliyan Petrov, the Aston Villa playerstricken with leukaemia.
Yet the winger, Bolton's outstanding player going forward – their defenders deserved as much credit – could not have beaten Hennessey more emphatically, lifting his shirt to reveal a vest bearing the message "Be Strong Stan".
It was a blow for Wolves. Hennessey was now the busier keeper and though he kept out efforts from Petrov and David Wheater he had no chance with Alonso's follow-up after David Ngog headed against the bar from a Petrov cross that Johnson failed to cut out, or when the substitute Kevin Davies walked easily through the home defence to slot home Bolton's third. Jarvis struck back too late to spark a comeback.
"It was a massive result," the Bolton manager, Owen Coyle, said. "And after everything that has happened it showed the true spirit of this club."
Wolves (4-4-2): Hennessey; Stearman, Johnson, Bassong, Ward; Kightly, Davis, Edwards, Jarvis; Fletcher, Ebanks-Blake. Substitutes Doyle for Ebanks-Blake (81). Henry for Davis (87), Milijas for Edwards (87).
Bolton (4-4-2): Bogdan; Ricketts, Wheater, Ream, Alonso; Miyachi, Reo-Coker, M Davies, Petrov; Klasnic, Ngog. Substitutes K Davies for Klasnic (70), Eagles for Miyaichi (78), Knight for Ngog (90).
Referee Jon Moss.
Man of the match Petrov (Bolton).
Match rating 6/10.Reuse content