A coolly taken early goal by Ashley Young was enough to sustain Villa's stuttering challenge for fourth place against a Bolton side still not certain of Premier League survival.
It was one of the few memorable moments in an undistinguished match, which nevertheless served as a rehabilitation of sorts for Villa.
"I knew the players were determined to put things right," said their manager, Martin O'Neill. "I thought we played very well today." It was the end of a turbulent week for Villa, full of repercussions from their 7-1 humiliation by Chelsea and of dark hints about his future from O'Neill.
The side that his critics say should have achieved more to justify the outlay on it at least gave him the boost of an early lead, one which they never really looked like losing, although Bolton had an even earlier chance that could have given them the advantage.
Jack Wilshere, their classy loan signing from Arsenal, showed his willingness to battle by winning a free-kick and Tamir Cohen's volley had to be well saved by Brad Friedel.
It was to be Wanderers' best moment of the whole game. After 10 minutes they were behind with Young, already operating his wing-swap routine with Stewart Downing, popping up on the left to take Stephen Warnock's pass inside the penalty area.
Bolton, apparently astonished to find him there, gave him far too much room. Although the angle was narrow, Young curled his shot right-footed just inside Jussi Jaaskelainen's far post. Bolton's manager, Owen Coyle, called it "an exquisite finish, but a bad goal for us to give away".
It did not add up to the best opening 10 minutes ever seen, but it was more eventful than the rest of the game put together.
Villa, despite O'Neill's praise for their effort, lacked quality with their final ball; Bolton simply lacked quality. The closest thing to genuine excitement in the sterile remaining 80 minutes was a Downing free-kick which was deflected wide and, more unusually, a header over the bar from the same player.
The second half was more noteworthy for the narrow avoidance of a diplomatic incident, when the contemporary rarity of a contested drop-ball sent Gabriel Agbonlahor sprinting away only to put his shot past the post – which was probably just as well. There was less diplomacy about the fracas after the final whistle that saw three players booked. It was a shame they did not put as much passion into the other 90 minutes.
Referee: Mike Jones
Man of the match: Dunne
Match rating: 3/10
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