Blackburn Rovers 1 Bolton Wanderers 2: A night that began with a plaintiff call for support from their beleaguered manager ended with another defeat and the prize of bottom place in the Premier League at Christmas, which has come to represent the end of hope for whichever team happens to be there.
Only West Bromwich Albion, in 2004, have propped up the table at this stage and avoided relegation. Steve Kean had used his programme notes to ask Blackburn fans to call off the head-hunt they have been directing at him for what seems to be most of this season. "If ever we needed to stand solid together then tonight's the night," he implored.
But it was a plea that fell on largely deaf ears and, for all that the Scot has insisted that the club's unpopular owners retain their faith in him, after 20 defeats in 38 games since he was appointed to succeed the controversially dismissed Sam Allardyce, his prospects of being around to supervise Blackburn's unlikely escape bid have never seemed more bleak. Two goals down after 30 minutes, Kean saw Yakubu pull one back but was denied the recovery he required.
Bolton, themselves in trouble, had arrived in bottom place after a run of five straight defeats and their manager's future being questioned for the first time. But goals by Mark Davies and Nigel Reo-Coker will allow Owen Coyle to rest easily for a while, at least. "It was a massive game and a massive three points for us," Coyle said. "It takes us into two home games, against Newcastle and Wolves, from which I believe we can get a return of points that will put us on a par with five or six teams currently above us."
Bolton had scored first in the fifth minute, capitalising on a predictably shaky start by the home side, their defence so weakened by injuries that they had midfield players drafted into emergency service at both full-back positions. Michel Salgado's current disaffection -– he has been given time off to speak to prospective buyers in Spain – did not help.
Reo-Coker caused panic with a surging run into the home penalty area from the right flank and though Paul Robinson seemed initially to have smothered his low cross, the ball escaped from him and was picked up by David Ngog, who squared it to Davies, just inside the penalty area in a central position. Davies cut inside and his firmly-struck shot flashed past the former England goalkeeper.
It was just the start Kean wanted least and he would not have been surprised at the reaction of the crowd as both home and away fans proclaimed that he would be "sacked in the morning."
Each time Bolton went forward there was anxiety in the home defence. Ngog was only inches away from converting a Martin Petrov corner and both Mauro Formica and Jason Lowe were cautioned for early, nervous fouls.
The home crowd quietened a little but they exploded into fury with the second Bolton goal after half an hour. Petrov broke at pace along the left and crossed into the box, where Reo-Coker collected the ball with his back to goal, spun and, evading an ineffective challenge by emergency left-back Morten Gamst Pedersen, forced it past Robinson.
There was little restraint now from the sections of the home crowd most intent on forcing a change. Out came the "Kean out" banners and up rose the chant. Their hostility continued as the referee blew for half-time.
Kean's words to the players then would have amounted to a plea to them to save his career, one imagined. Their response at least encouraged him. There was genuine agony on Steven Nzonzi's face when, four minutes after the restart, set up by Junior Hoilett, he missed a good opportunity by lifting his shot over the bar.
So inept had Blackburn been in the first half that Bolton themselves had looked half-decent, better than a side that had lost 13 of their first 16 games, a start that Premier League history says will see them relegated regardless of last night's result. No team has reached this stage of a season with a comparable record and survived.
They looked more vulnerable in the second half and, with 23 minutes left, a goal raised the prospect of a Blackburn fight back. Again the creative force was the bright spark Hoilett. Turning Gretar Steinsson in midfield, he threaded a reverse pass to Yakubu, on the shoulder of Gary Cahill and onside. Breaking clear, the Nigerian stayed cool and dinked the ball past Jussi Jaaskelainen.
"I thought then we could go on and get something from the game," Kean said. It was a forlorn hope. Blackburn might have had a penalty when Bolton substitute Paul Robinson lunged into Ruben Rochina but a second goal proved beyond them and at the final whistle, his baying detractors in full voice again, Kean walked away an isolated figure.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-1-1): Robinson; Lowe, Samba, Hanley, Pedersen; Vukcevic (Rochina, 65), N'Zonzi, Dunn, Formica ( Goodwillie, 65); Hoilett; Yakubu.
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Knight, Cahill, Alonso (Robinson, 50); M Davies, Reo-Coker, Muamba, Petrov; Ngog (Tuncay, 72), Klasnic (Pratley, 81).
Referee M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).