LONDON // An afternoon for some perspective. Perspective on Tottenham Hotspur's supposedly stellar start to the season; perspective on the week in which Gareth Bale found himself billed as the world's best footballer.
Not at the Reebok Stadium. Not when faced against a Nordic right-back best known for two tattoo-engraved arms and a marriage to a former Miss Iceland. Not when presented with an expertly prepared Bolton Wanderers team intent on bursting an over-inflated bubble.
Far more than Maicon on Bale's Champions League glory night against Inter Milan on Tuesday, Gretar Steinsson was outpaced by Tottenham's winger. It did not matter. Owen Coyle, the Bolton manager, altered neither formation nor tactics to contain Bale. There was no double-marking, just a couple of solid early challenges and a commitment to attack enough to exploit Tottenham's myriad defensive flaws.
Harry Redknapp was left bemoaning his team's susceptibility to the counter-attack and three poorly conceded goals. When it came to discussing Bale, Tottenham's manager attempted to bring some realism to a week of hyperbole.
"He's not the best player in the world, he's still got miles to go to learn the game and improve," said Redknapp. "He's improving, he's been fantastic for us, but the best players in the world are Messi and Ronaldo, I would think.
"There might be expectation from other people, there's not from me. I don't expect the kid to do miracles."
It is a hard statistic to believe, but Bale has yet to claim a Premier League assist this season. Reference to another table is required to realise that Bolton are ahead of Tottenham in the league, but both numbers are real.
Coyle's strategy for disarming presumptions had been to trust in his team's fundamentals. "I think it would have been very disrespectful for the team that Tottenham have if we were just to concentrate on one player," he said.
Bolton probably should have been ahead before Bale had touched the ball when Chung-yong Lee's tackle-cum-cross flew past the visiting defenders to Matt Taylor. With William Gallas again sent out with a heavily strapped thigh, Tottenham's defence was typically porous.
On the half hour, Fabrice Muamba caught Sandro, the Brazilian making his debut for Spurs in midfield, in possession. His tackle broke to Johan Elmander and a simple, square pass sent Kevin Davies free on goal. The captain's shot to the bottom corner meant that Spurs had conceded the opening goal in seven straight league games.
"Muamba sacked [Sandro] and we're 1-0 down," Redknapp said. "He has to learn that lesson: you don't get time in England to get it and look up."
After the interval, Younes Kaboul was sucked into fouling Davies on the left. The free kick was not properly cleared, enabling the striker to steal into the area and send the ball back to Steinsson. A low, precise shot brought him a first league goal in 18 months.
Bolton chewed up more defensive foolery when Gallas slapped a no-look clearance straight at Taylor. A smart pass allowed Lee to run at the penalty spot where Benoit Assou-Ekotto sent him sprawling. Davies converted the penalty.
The home side conceded twice "without doing very much wrong", as Coyle pointed out, as Alan Hutton and Roman Pavyluchenko, a half-time substitute, produced special finishes.
The Scottish right-back hit the top corner with his wrong foot; the Russian volleyed in from a preposterous angle.
It mattered not as Davies, watched by Fabio Capello, the England manager, knocked down a high ball perfectly for Martin Petrov, who sprinted on to score Bolton's fourth.
"I thought Kevin Davies ran the game from the first second," Coyle said. "He doesn't have to score goals to contribute, but when he does it takes him to another level again. I felt he was unplayable."
At Bolton they rarely have to worry about losing perspective.