Bolton Wanderers 1 Wimbledon 0
The FA Cup came to Burnden Park on Saturday, albeit briefly. It sat in the centre circle before the game to be gazed upon by Bolton's Serbian midfielder, Sasa Curcic, who had won the Player of the Round award for his work during Bolton's 3-0 win at Bradford the previous Saturday.
The win had instigated a fragile optimism at Burnden Park which was kept alive when John McGinlay neatly tucked away a 44th-minute penalty to secure three desperately needed points for the bottom-placed club.
However, the penalty was so fiercely contested that Robbie Earle, punished for handling Curcic's cross (though wrongly as television replays showed), was duly dismissed for allowing his frustration to boil into dissent.
Wimbledon were pulled out of shape when Dean Holdsworth limped off in the 53rd minute, to be replaced by Jason Euell. By this time, the game had settled into a gritty battle, lightened only by Curcic's endless surges from deep within the Bolton half.
A few scares, however, gave a much-needed fillip to the second half. In the 48th minute, Marcus Gayle's shot slipped away from the Bolton goalkeeper, Keith Branagan, who ignored his embarrassment by leaping on the ball before Wimbledon could capitalise.
There was, without doubt, a rare and welcome fire in Bolton's belly. This had been lit the previous week by their new coach, Ian Porterfield, drafted in by their now solo manager, Colin Todd. Todd's initial tactic had been to force Porterfield to watch a string of recent Bolton video nasties. Suitably shocked, Porterfield had duly lambasted his new players and the effect was immediate.
In the closing minutes of the match, it seemed as though Wimbledon might well be readying themselves for a characteristic late steal. As the sky had darkened to match Bolton's dour determination, both Efan Ekoku and Euell headed directly into the welcoming torso of Branagan. As for Curcic, who had made his international debut against Brazil at the age of 18, this match, arguably the least glamorous fixture in the entire Premier League calendar, must have seemed in a completely different universe.
Goal: McGinlay (pen 44) 1-0.
Bolton Wanderers (4-3-3): Branagan; Green, Phillips, Bergsson, Stubbs; Paatelainen, Curcic, Sneekes; McGinlay, Blake (Lee, 86), Sellars. Substitutes not used: McAnespie, Todd.
Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Kimble, Leonhardsen, Earle; Ekoku, Holdsworth (Euell, 53), Gayle, Reeves; Harford, Perry. Substitutes not used: Talboys, Pearce.
Referee: M D Reed (Birmingham).
Sending-off: Wimbledon Earle (45).
Man of the match: Curcic.