For Bolton and Owen Coyle, it has been quite a journey since Boxing Day last.
Coyle was managing Burnley then, and their 1-1 derby draw at Turf Moor left Wanderers in the bottom three. When Howard Webb blew the final whistle here, Bolton had climbed to the heady and improbable heights of the top five.
They did so despite being outplayed for long periods by a West Bromwich Albion side whose manager, Roberto Di Matteo, was exaggerating only slightly when he said that Bolton "had two chances, I think", whereas his own striker Peter Odemwingie could and should have had a hat-trick. But Coyle even turned that into a positive, arguing that the resilience Wanderers showed in riding their luck bodes well for their ability to maintain a lofty position – sixth place after Spurs' evening win.
"I don't think we ever got to our maximum," the Scot said, sipping a glass of red wine to ward off the chill after another long touchline stint in his famous shorts. "If we're going to give balance I thought West Brom were terrific, and they had a lot of chances. But we showed a lot of nice attributes that we're going to need as the season goes on. It's great to get a clean sheet, but first and foremost the important thing was the three points."
They were sealed by a ninth goal of the season from Johan Elmander after Matthew Taylor had finally broken his duck, and shed an unwanted record, to put Bolton ahead late in the first half. Taylor, whose failure to score from 28 previous attempts this season made him statistically the worst shot in the Premier League, hit the target in style for his first goal since a double at Stoke City on 17 April, passing the ball beneath Scott Carson after a clever exchange of passes with Lee Chung-yong.
"He's been hitting the woodwork, keepers have been making brilliant saves, but I had a feeling he'd score today," said Coyle. "I'm delighted for him. It was a good finish, but you've got to give Lee a lot of credit for the awareness and composure he showed to get round the keeper, and then to pass the ball back to Matt."
By that stage Albion should have been at least two up. Odemwingie, their leading scorer, who was making his first appearance since scoring twice in their last win against Newcastle United three Sundays ago, beat Bolton's malfunctioning offside trap in the 22nd minute, and again in the 37th. But after slicing horribly wide on the first occasion following James Morrison's clever pass, he lacked the confidence even to shoot next time, and his tame attempt to square the ball inside was easily intercepted.
"He had two fantastic chances, and it's quite unusual for him, because he's usually quite composed," said Di Matteo. "But he's been out for a while, and apart from the 'goals' he had a good game. He'll be ok, you know – he's a good player, and once you get back into that rhythm he would put those chances away."
The striker missed another as the second half continued in a similar pattern, driving across the face of goal after Chris Brunt had unlocked the Wanderers defence. Brunt also hit the post with a header, and Morrison should have done better when set free by Odemwingie, rather than allowing Jussi Jaaskelainen to dive on the ball.
"You can't have five or six chances and not score one," said Di Matteo, who hopes that Jerome Thomas will recover from illness to return at home to Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday, when Brunt will be suspended. "We are coming away from here scratching our head."
They were made to pay by Elmander, who initially showed the same reluctance to shoot as Odemwingie had earlier, but drilled in a low shot from a kind rebound. He then rushed to the corner to collect and display a white Bolton shirt showing the words "Get well soon Avi Cohen", a message to the father of the Wanderers midfielder Tamir who was injured in a car accident just before Christmas.
"He was over here a couple of weeks ago at the training ground," Coyle said of the former Liverpool full-back. "He's a lovely man, and Tamir is so well-liked by this group of players. We're all thinking of Tamir and his dad – we hope he makes a full recovery."
Bolton now lose Lee to the Asian Cup for up to a month, and also have an injury doubt over Gretar Steinsson ahead of a trip to Chelsea, leading Coyle to wonder about his ability to field a full 18-man squad.
But he did not look overly worried – unsurprisingly given the transformation he and his increasingly happy Wanderers have enjoyed since that Turf Moor draw 12 months ago.
Man of the match James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion)
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