Leeds arrived only 40 minutes before this delayed FA Cup fourth-round tie, after suffering an extra delay of their own on the motorway. But they made up for lost time with a Rod Wallace goal in the first minute that saw them through despite most of the traffic for the other 89 being against them.
Not only did Leeds' goal come disorientatingly early, it was the result of defending that suggested Bolton had left their survival instincts in a tailback several miles from the ground.
Tony Yeboah's cross carried no particular threat but Keith Branagan and Alan Stubbs both missed it on the near post. That still left Gerry Taggart with the opportunity to clear it on the far post, but when he failed Wallace had the simplest of tap-ins.
Bolton, hopelessly stranded at the foot of the Premiership, had not taken long to make their prospects in the Cup look equally bleak.
To their credit, they threw everything they had at Leeds for the rest of the match and went close on several occasions to the equaliser they deserved.
Alan Thompson and Stubbs both came close and David Lee hit a post with what was probably intended as a chip from his wing into the box.
Later in the game, Jimmy Phillips headed agonisingly wide and Sasa Curcic was almost as close with a shot after a dazzling little run.
Bolton's fortunes on a night where they were fated to lose were typified, however, by an earlier Curcic run where, having beaten the whole Leeds defence, he managed to run into his team-mate, Thompson.
Leeds had their moments but, with Yeboah muted and out of sorts, their contributions were all against the general run of play. As time ran out, Bolton tried the few options that remained, throwing John McGinlay and Mixu Paatelainen into the action and sending Branagan up for the last two corners.
"It was a crazy game," Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds manager, said. "They threw everything at us, including the goalkeeper."
The outcome was the same. Bolton, for all their effort and opportunity, came away empty handed and can now concentrate on the relegation issue while Leeds take on Port Vale in the fifth round.
Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Branagan; Green, Fairclough, Taggart, Phillips; Stubbs; Lee (McGinlay, 59), Curcic, Thompson; DeFreitas, Blake (Paatelainen, 81). Substitute not used: Sellars.
Leeds United (4-3-3): Lukic; Kelly, Beesley, Wetherall, Dorigo; Palmer, McAllister, Ford; Wallace (Deane, 84), Yeboah (Radebe, 89), Speed. Substitute not used: Beeney.
Referee: J Winter (Stockton).