David Moyes’ 500th game in charge ended in victory as John Heitinga smashed in a last minute winner to send Everton into the fifth round of the FA Cup.
It was looking like a replay was on the cards – but the Dutch substitute had other ideas, hammering a thunderous 15-yard shot past Andrew Lonergan right at the death to decide an entertaining tie at the Reebok Stadium.
Everton had taken an 18th-minute lead through Steven Pienaar, who bundled the ball over the line from close range.
Marvin Sordell levelled shortly after the South African’s opener with a neat finish – a goal which looked to have set up a re-match at Goodison Park.
But Heitinga’s late strike decided the tie in the Blues’ favour, much to the delight of the 5,000-strong travelling contingent.
Overnight snow in Bolton had left many wondering whether the tie would go ahead, but efforts by the Reebok Stadium groundstaff ensured the game was given the green light several hours before kick-off.
Much of the early energy came from Everton who made an enterprising start to the game on what was a difficult and uneven playing surface.
Kevin Mirallas was named in David Moyes’ team for the first time in a month-and-a-half but his afternoon lasted only 18 minutes as he was forced from the field with another injury complaint.
It was a disappointing blow as the Belgian had produced the visitors’ two best efforts in the early stages – a free-kick that was deflected wide and a left-foot effort which sailed over the bar.
Still, Everton took the lead through Pienaar just 30 seconds after the former Olympiacos winger had been replaced by Magaye Gueye.
A strange incident inside the Bolton six-yard box saw Victor Anichebe’s shot strike the legs of Tim Ream. The ball then ricocheted off Pienaar and into the back of net, despite goalkeeper Andy Lonergan’s scrambling efforts.
Pienaar’s goal sparked a reaction from Bolton and the hosts equalised just prior to the half-hour mark in what was their first real attack of the game.
Pratley surged down the right wing and from the midfielder’s low cross, Sordell darted in at the near post to finish past Howard.
Howard’s involvement at that point had been very little, but a resurgent Bolton gave the American a firm workout in the moments leading up to half-time.
Pratley and Marcos Alonso both tested the Everton stopper with stinging shots, while Chris Eagles’ long-range effort was only clutched at the second attempt.
Everton too had their chances to regain the initiative, though Anichebe twice failed to test Lonergan with free headers before referee Martin Atkinson blew for half-time.
The opening exchanges in the second period were bossed by Bolton as Everton were pinned back by the Championship club.
The best chance fell to left-back Alonso – the subject of a bid from Italian giants Fiorentina during the past week – but Howard produced another top draw save to beat away the Spaniard’s vicious shot from 30 yards.
After weathering Wanderers’ pressure, the Blues began to offer more, as their sell-out following roared them forward.
Pienaar twice came close with curling efforts, the second of which was excellently tipped around the post by Lonergan.
Stuart Holden, Benik Afobe and David Ngog came on for Bolton in the latter stages as Dougie Freedman went for the win.
But it was another substitute who had the final say, with Heitinga crashing in the 90th minute winner.
Gueye could have made the game safe deep into injury time, but his effort hit the bar, meaning 2-1 was the final score.