Bolton Wanderers are down and in the final analysis it will look as though they did not do enough to save themselves on the final day. Record books do not tell the whole story, however, for the visitors were in a winning position when the extraordinary second‑half story at the Etihad Stadium began to unfold. Concentration appeared to waver when news came through of Queens Park Rangers' unlikely revival, and though Jon Walters's penalty earned Stoke City a draw they probably deserved, had Bolton been able to hang on to their lead they could have enjoyed Sergio Agüero's late winner almost as much as Manchester City did.
"We are obviously disappointed with the way things have turned out but our focus always had to be on winning the game," the Bolton manger, Owen Coyle, said. "We didn't do that so we didn't help ourselves. I'm not going to come out with excuses that sound like sour grapes. I found it incredible that the first goal was allowed to stand, our goalkeeper clearly had the ball in his hands and was fouled, you could see that from 50 yards away.
"But we bounced back and could have gone further in front. We needed to see out the game from there. I don't know if news that QPR were in front affected us in the second half, it might have done. But we still could have won when Tim Ream had a header saved right at the end. We didn't quite do enough. We made a poor start to the season and have been playing catch-up ever since."
Bolton looked nervous in the opening stages and Peter Crouch went close while Ricardo Fuller and Matthew Etherington both saw early shots saved, so the visitors could hardly complain at going behind, even if there was considerable debate over the legality of the goal.
Walters did not exactly bundle Adam Bogdan into the back of his net, in the manner once favoured by Nat Lofthouse, but he appeared to play the goalkeeper rather than the ball from Etherington's cross, with the result that the Hungarian goalkeeper was unable to make a clean catch and the ball ended up in the back of the net. Neither Bogdan nor Zat Knight dealt with the cross as effectively as they might have, though it still seemed to be a foul on the goalkeeper. Chris Foy did not appear to see it that way, and after checking with his assistant referee that Walters had remained onside, the referee awarded the goal.
Stoke could have added to their lead through Crouch and Walters before the interval but Bolton had their moments too. Kevin Davies headed against the bar and Ivan Klasnic brought a fingertip save from Thomas Sorensen. Klasnic was involved in the attack that brought Bolton their equaliser, though the move appeared to have been safely neutralised until Robert Huth drove his attempted clearance straight at Mark Davies and saw the ricochet beat Sorensen before the goalkeeper could react.
Incredibly there was still time for not just another first-half goal but another freakish one, with Kevin Davies crossing from the right for Klasnic with Sorensen waving the ball into his net at the near post. So a first half that contained three of the season's more bizarre goals ended with Bolton in front, the final five minutes having turned everything that went before on its head.
Bolton's joy in its turn was curtailed by news of Djibril Cissé's second-half equaliser at the Etihad which led to taunts of "you're not singing anymore" from the Boothen End. The Bolton fans in the opposite stand duly went quiet, though soon perked up at the news of Joey Barton's dismissal. What was taking place on the Britannia pitch thus became something of an irrelevance but in truth not that much was happening until Crouch played in Etherington and the winger shot too high when he could have levelled. When news that QPR had taken the lead filtered through, even the comedy convicts with the Great Escape banner at the Bolton end fell deathly quiet.
While Bolton led their supporters could at least hope that City might still come to their rescue but that possibility disappeared when Bogdan brought down Crouch to enable Walters to bring the scores level from the spot. Further news from the Etihad was not required, however encouraging it might have been a few minutes earlier.
"City's late winner left us with a nasty taste in our mouths but we should have done our job and not worried about the other games," Coyle said. "We needed to keep a clean sheet in the second half and we couldn't do it, though I still say Peter Crouch clambered over Adam Bogdan for the penalty rather than the other way around."