STOKE CITY'S worst fears became reality as a gruelling six-day spell ended in one of their heaviest Barclays Premier League defeats . . . enabling Bolton Wanderers to gain sweet revenge for their Wembley mauling in the FA Cup Semi Final.
Tony Pulis' side were rocked by a controversial opening goal from Kevin Davies inside the first couple of minutes and things went from bad to worse as Chris Eagles and Ivan Klasnic helped themselves to two goals apiece to complete an emphatic win.
City were made to pay for the fact that they were second best on the day as they punishing schedule of going all the way to Israel for a Europa League tie caught up with them and they suffered another Premier League defeat after European action.
Pulis will no doubt welcome the two-week international break now to get the likes of Ryan Shawcross, Marc Wilson and Matthew Etherington fit again, but he will also want to give his players an opportunity to recharge the batteries.
Though Pulis was unable to call upon injured trio, Shawcross, Wilson and Etherington, he did nevertheless welcome back several key players among the seven changes made from the side which secured another Europa League triumph in Tel Aviv.
After a minute's silence for Remembrance Day, City had little time to settle before they found themselves a goal behind in controversial circumstances.
Referee Webb deemed that Whelan's stray pass which found its way back to Begovic was in fact a backpass and awarded the home side a free kick.
As Begovic was protesting, Klasnic grabbed the ball from the 'keeper's grasp and played a short pass to Kevin Davies who slid it into an empty net.
Despite further protests from the City players, Webb allowed the goal to stand to give Bolton the boost they so badly needed in the circumstances.
There were more problems for the Potters moments later when Eagles fired in a shot from the edge of the box which Begovic could only push out, but fortunately on this occasion Wilkinson was able to deflect it away from the incoming Kevin Davies.
City had the opportunity to hit back when Pennant advanced down the right and sent over a cross which met first time by Crouch. Although he didn't make the cleanest of contact, it deflected off a Bolton defender and bounced to safety.
Having regained their composure after such an early shock, City began to exert pressure on the home side's defence which had to deal initially with two long throw-ins sent over by Delap and then a corner delivered by Pennant from the right.
There was an encouraging moment when Woodgate's neat footwork enabled him to make space for a shot from the edge of the box and then as City sustained the pressure, Crouch also weaved his way into a promising position only to be closed down.
After a period in which the Potters threatened to get themselves back on level terms, Bolton went further in front midway through the first half.
When Huth turned the ball back as Klasnic tried to break clear, Begovic's kick did not carry far enough and Eagles seized upon it before lashing his low left foot shot past the diving 'keeper and into the far corner of the net.
There was another anxious moment when Kevin Davies showed his great pace and power to storm down the right into the box and his cross to the near post was only inches away from the incoming Reo-Coker getting a decisive touch.
With passes going astray and City looking out of sorts, Bolton sensed that they could build upon their encouraging start and Huth was under pressure again from Eagles as he burst forward, but the big German recovered to clear for a corner.
To make matters worse for the Potters, on a rare attack which saw Pennant carry the ball to the edge of the Bolton box, the winger then fell awkwardly and had to be given lengthy treatment for an injury to his right knee.
Pennant was able to resume and was in the thick of the action as City sought to pull a goal back at the end of the half; his free kick causing a mad scramble in the box, but once again the ball wouldn't fall for Huth in front of goal.
The half finished with Walters doing well to cut in from the left hand side but having made room for a shot, his effort was charged down.
Pulis resisted the temptation to make changes at half-time, but there was some encouragement provided by the hard running of Jerome in the early stages of the second half as City looked for a way back into the contest.
When Delap threaded a pass out wide to Pennant, his cross was retrieved at the far post by Walters who whipped a centre for Jerome to glance his header wide.
A burst forward by Muamba caused problems for the City defence and although Begovic hesitated in coming off his line, he managed to block the shot and Walters completed the clearance, although there were appeals for a penalty as he used his shoulder to bring the ball under control.
The Potters hit back and went close to getting themselves back into the game when Huth's header from a Delap throw-in was headed away by Mark Davies on the far post.
With half an hour remaining, Bolton went further in front when Robinson, storming forward to the edge of the box, fed the ball into Klasnic and he lashed his first time shot past the diving Begovic and in at the far post to extinguish immediate hopes of a fightback.
Pulis reacted to the third goal by eventually making three substitutions all at once as Higginbotham, Whitehead and Jones were brought on for Wilkinson, Whelan and Pennant.
But City were still adjusting to the reshuffle when Muamba's long ball forward caught Woodgate in two minds and Klasnic slipped ball into Eagles' path for the former Manchester United player to race forward and calmly slot his shot past the helpless Begovic.
The Bolton fans wanted a fifth goal for obvious reasons and they went close to getting it when Eagles saw his free kick deflect off Crouch and wide of the target.
But it came eight minutes from the end when a high ball into the box headed on by Wheater and Klasnic glanced his header beyond the emerging Begovic.
Bolton introduced Tuncay in place of Klasnic and he came within inches of adding a sixth when Riley's penetrating run down the right saw him send over a low cross which was just beyond the reach of the outstretched Turkish international.