Home has been where the heartache is for Bolton Wanderers this season. There has been no place quite as painful or offering such frequent opportunities for embarrassment but finally, emphatically, they found respite. In the process they exacted revenge on Stoke City with perfect symmetry. Bolton's slide dated back to their FA Cup semi-final humbling at the hands of the Potters in April, that 5-0 loss preceding a run of 13 defeats in 16 league games.
The rematch turned into a mismatch, this win making a mockery of Wanderers' recent difficulties. Goals from Kevin Davies, and two each from Chris Eagles and Ivan Klasnic and Gary Cahill, meant they belatedly ended a club record run of seven successive home defeats at the Reebok.
Attacking with rampant relish, theirs was a swift journey from ignominy to excellence. "There's no getting away from the level of performance and how crucial the win was," the manager, Owen Coyle, said. "Having made a slow start, every game becomes bigger. It was important that all the talking stopped. We had to deliver."
But it was an opportune moment to face an uncharacteristically wretched Stoke side. After three games in seven days, incorporating a 5,000-mile round trip to Israel in the Europa League, his charges might have been exhausted but Tony Pulis was exasperated. "No excuses whatsoever," he said. "That was in the bottom three or four performances in my eight and a half years at this football club. We were very, very poor. We never competed."
Long before their capitulation was complete, Stoke had given Bolton a helping hand, not to mention a friendly foot, on the path to victory. Asmir Begovic was culpable for two goals – arguably he was doubly responsible for the first – to effectively determine the game within its first quarter. While the irrepressible Eagles and the catalytic Klasnic were each involved in five goals, it was a moot point who was most influential.
Abject starts had been a cause of Bolton's difficulties at the Reebok but this brought a role reversal: a side who often trail from the early stages were ahead after 84 seconds. When Glenn Whelan sliced the ball back to Begovic, it was more miscue than deliberate backpass. Yet it was dangerous to presume as much and catch it. The referee, Howard Webb, promptly penalised the goalkeeper and, with a piece of predatory thinking, Klasnic yanked the ball from Begovic's clutch, took the free-kick quickly and presented Kevin Davies with an open goal. "Ivan's such an intelligent footballer," said Coyle.
To misjudge one backpass may be deemed unfortunate. To struggle with a second was costly and careless. As Robert Huth, pursued by Klasnic, prodded the ball back to Begovic, the goalkeeper had the opportunity to avert danger. Instead, he scuffed his clearance to Eagles, lurking on the left wing. From an acute angle, the Bolton player drilled the ball past the despairing Bosnian.
"The quality of some of our goals was there for everybody to see," Coyle said. "Eagles was outstanding from start to finish." He illustrated as much with his second, a delicate dink over Begovic. His brace sandwiched Klasnic's first strike, Begovic touching the Croat's 20-yard shot but, summing up his day, contriving to palm the ball into the net.
The rout was completed from Eagles's corner, David Wheater nodding on for Klasnic to finish. Coyle had parachuted Joe Riley, a 20-year-old league debutant, into the back four and they kept a rare clean sheet. "An unbelievable performance," said the manager. "We took him off to give him a standing ovation." There was similar acclaim for a team who, after a wait of almost seven months, had something to celebrate in front of their own fans. While Bolton were euphoric, Pulis was phlegmatic. "We had our day at Wembley. They have had their day today."