BY 2.45pm on Saturday afternoon, the fact 75 per cent of football pundits had tipped Wanderers for relegation had done more to fire-up the dressing room than any team-talk Gary Megson could wish to muster.

There was something pleasantly familiar as one by one, the usual suspects trotted out Bolton’s name when pressed for the teams they thought were doomed to failure. The new season had well and truly arrived.

Fast-forward a couple of hours and the doubters were a little less vocal and a lot less visible.

Stoke lived up to their billing as ‘the most physical side in the Premier League’ – but they were welcomed at the Reebok by the past masters.

Bolton had been walking that walk for some considerable length of time.

Any lingering negativity from last season’s struggles was wiped out in 11 first-half minutes as Wanderers raced into a three-goal lead. It was almost as if the opening day defeat against Newcastle United last August had been played in reverse.

How they rated, action shots and head to head. Click bigmatchverdictwands3stokecity1.pdf

Megson is no stranger to the pessimists – however, one in particular riled him enough to produce one of his famous “doughnut” put-downs in a light-hearted post match press conference.

He wasn’t crude enough to name names but this reporter understands former Chelsea striker-turned radio pundit Tony Cascarino might well have claimed an unexpected assist with his acerbic comments before the game. Wanderers’ club record signing Johan Elmander looked anything but “an £11million flop.”

It was Stoke’s big day too and their fans turned out in force, many still pinching themselves in the queues outside the ground scarcely believing their Premier League dream had become a reality.

A rousing rendition of their club anthem Delilah followed the kick-off and, judging by the Potters’ direct approach, it is a safe bet those supporters will see little of the ball on the Green Green Grass of Home at the Britannia this season.

Stoke certainly possess a potent weapon in Rory Delap’s long throw, used ad infinitum during the early stages of the game. But the newly-promoted side did not appear to have a Plan B, especially given their two main attacking threats, Liam Lawrence and Ricardo Fuller, were restricted to second-half cameos because of a lack of match fitness.

Their arrival did spark the Potters into life, but by then the damage had been done.

Once Wanderers had adapted to the aerial onslaught, they went about winning the battle in midfield. Fabrice Muamba and Joey O’Brien steadily exerted their authority and, after firing a few warning shots across the boughs, Gretar Steinsson unleashed a cannon of battleship proportions.

The Icelander later admitted only “an idiot” could think he could score from the touchline, but as his effort sailed past a bemused Thomas Sorensen and nestled into the top right hand corner of the net, he was only too happy to take the applause.

Visibly deflated, Stoke never recovered their shape.

The second was vintage Bolton. Gary Cahill’s looping free-kick from just inside his own half found a clever run by Kevin Davies, who must have been surprised by the space he was afforded as he nodded the ball neatly into the bottom corner.

Johan Elmander got in on the act before half-time to put the game beyond doubt. Joey O’Brien found his run with radar-like precision, leaving him to roll out the well-worn goal celebration used by all new dads when they grab a goal. Brazil striker Bebeto has a lot to answer for after unleashing that one on the public at the World Cup in 1994.

Fans were treated to a spot of opera at the break, but the second half failed to scale the same heights as the first.

Kevin Nolan could have added a fourth when he played a majestic one-two with Elmander to slice open the Stoke defence but as the skipper sent an improvised back-heel towards the net, Ryan Shawcross was able to nip back and clear it off the line.

Fuller added a late consolation when, for once, Wanderers’ defenders dropped off from Carl Dickinson’s deep cross but it arrived too late to get his side back into the game.

It was a harsh introduction to life in the Premier League for the visitors but one Megson was only too happy to dish out to his good friend Pulis.

The Whites boss still insists that he would not waste a penny betting that Stoke will be relegated but, after this showing, few present at the Reebok would share his optimism.

For Wanderers, it was as if last season never happened.