Premier League newcomers Stoke City suffered a miserable start to their first top-flight campaign in 23 years, going down 3-1 to Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium. Gretar Steinsson, Kevin Davies and debutant Johan Elmander were on the score-sheet for the hosts, all during the first half, as they outclassed their visitors.
The result served as a stark warning to Tony Pulis' team of the struggle his team face to stay in the Premier League. Wanderers manager Gary Megson, by contrast, will be expecting a more steady season following last year's off-field turmoil and on-field flirtation with relegation.
Pulis handed debuts to Thomas Sorensen, Dave Kitson and Seyi Olofinjana, while Megson gave a first start to record signing Elmander. The foundation of the away club's promotion campaign was their high-tempo physical style, and they started in the same vein here.
Rory Delap's long throw-ins were proving to be a potent weapon for Stoke, causing havoc inside the home side's penalty area on numerous occasions in the opening 15 minutes. Despite their assured start, City were given a dose of Premier League reality when Megson's men went close three times in the space of five minutes.
Elmander demonstrated why Megson paid £10 million for him when he narrowly missed the target with a header, before latching on to a Davies flick-on and hitting a powerful drive inches over the crossbar. The former Toulouse player should have opened his account a minute later, but he somehow failed to connect with Matt Taylor's dangerous cross.
Wanderers slowly began to take control of the game and were rewarded in the 34th minute through an extraordinary strike. Iceland right-back Steinsson cut in from the wing before unleashing a speculative volley, which curled and dipped on its way into the top corner of the goal.
Things got even worse for the travelling supporters when Wanderers scored twice in four minutes shortly before half-time. Davies grabbed the first, outmuscling the City defence to cleverly flick a swirling cross into the net. That was followed soon after by a debut strike from Elmander, the Swede taking advantage of non-existent Potters defending to head home Joey O'Brien's cross.
The second half was dominated by the Trotters as they looked to build on their comfortable lead. The impressive Elmander was particularly unfortunate not to grab his second goal.
Mamady Sidibe came close to claiming Stoke's first Premier League goal, but he was thwarted by a good save from Jussi Jaaskelainen. That honour eventually fell to Jamaica striker Ricardo Fuller, who met Liam Dickinson's cross with a bullet header to give the visiting supporters slight consolation.