Phil Parkinson, the Bolton Wanderers manager, promised Sheffield United a competitive encounter in his programme notes and, to some extent, that is exactly what they got.
But Chris Wilder's side had too much invention, too much intelligence and for most of the afternoon simply too much class to be dragged into the type of war of attrition which suits the hosts.
Starting the day third in the table having won three of their opening four outings, Wanderers entered the fixture confident of adding United's name to the list of scalps already claimed this term. But, unlike Birmingham City, Reading and West Bromwich Albion, the visitors played their own game rather than the one favoured by Wanderers.
Even more impressive than the result, which lifts them to seventh, was the manner in which United controlled the contest. Indeed, but for a superb save from Ben Alnwick to deny David McGoldrick, their margin of victory would have been even greater. Wilder, quite understandably, appeared more than satisfied with his squad's latest body of work.
It was probably no coincidence, given the rivalry which has developed between these two clubs since they were both promoted two seasons ago, that Parkinson only gave United a passing mention in Wanderers' official matchday publication. With their owner Ken Anderson and former targetman Gary Madine among those to stoke the fire, United are clearly not at the top of Wanderers' Christmas card list although it would be a mistake to describe them as bitter enemies. Still, there is just enough simmering tension to give their meetings real edge. It was United who utilised it the best as Mark Duffy and Kieron Freeman put them in control of a game they put beyond doubt when John Fleck also wrote his name on the scoresheet after the break.
If Duffy's effort was expertly crafted, the same could not be said for Freeman's strike although, given United's ascendancy at the time, it was definitely deserved. After watching his colleague thread the ball between Ben Alnwick's outstretched palm and the right-hand post, United's wing-back appeared to be searching for Leon Clarke when he found the back of the net instead. Clarke, whose stepover deceived Wanderers' backline, thought about claiming it before congratulating a sheepish Freeman instead. Still, the United marksman received all the plaudits just before the interval by making a superb clearance to deny David Wheater. It was his final contribution of the contest as, presumably injured, he was replaced by David McGoldrick ahead of the second period. If Clarke is facing a spell on the sidelines, it underlines why Wilder is so determined to bolster his attacking options ahead of Friday's loan deadline.
With Josh Magennis, Oliver Norwood and Daniel Lafferty featuring on the team sheet, Michael O'Neill decided to spend his afternoon watching this Championship encounter rather than take in a top-flight game elsewhere. In front of the watching Northern Ireland manager it was Norwood, selected in O'Neill's 25 man squad for next month's games against Bosnia-Herzegovinia and Israel, who made the first impression on the fixture from a second minute corner. Moments before Duffy justified his return to the starting eleven by powering a low shot beyond Alnwick, Norwood's awareness saw him drag a corner back towards John Fleck rather than whip it hopefully into the box. On exactly the same wave length, his fellow midfielder unleashed a vicious effort which beat the Wanderers goalkeeper but not the crossbar.
Duffy's intervention ensured United's excellent opening spell did not go without reward but it also provoked a response from Parkinson's men with Sammy Ameobi and Magennis both causing problems.
However, when Freeman stretched United's lead, their work became increasingly frantic and, as a direct consequence, fractious too.
Alnwick came to Wanderers rescue immediately after the interval when McGoldrick unleashed a shot nobody else saw coming other than the 31-year-old while Sharp, usually so clinical from close range,uncharacteristically fluffed his lines attempting to convert on the turn. United's captain did connect soonafter when Freeman prised apart Wanderers' rearguard but his low drive was blocked.
Magennis continued to pose the greatest threat to United's lead and so it was no surprise when, seconds after he directed a header wide, Richard Stearman was introduced and Chris Basham nudged into midfield. In the 73rd minute, after another patient and incisive move, Fleck sent large sections of the home crowd heading for the exit doors when he profited from McGoldrick's excellent work.
Bolton Wanderers: Alnwick, Lowe, Beevers, Vela, Ameobi, Buckley (Wildschut 62), Murphy (Oztumer 62),Olkowski, Magennis (Donaldson 82), Grounds, Wheater. Not used: Matthews, Taylor, Wilson, Williams.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Stevens, Freeman, Basham, Egan, O'Connell, Fleck, Norwood, Duffy(Stearman 69), Clarke (McGoldrick 46), Sharp (Woodburn 86). Not used: Moore, Lundstram, Leonard,Lafferty.
Referee: Andrew Madley
Attendance: 14, 848
Goals: Duffy (5), Freeman (23), Fleck (73)