Jay-Jay Okocha scored his first goal in fourth months as Bolton eased past Fulham at the Reebok Stadium and kept their European challenge alive.

The Nigerian midfielder has endured an erratic season after struggling for both fitness and form but he produced some of his old magic today to carry Wanderers’ to victory over a below-par Fulham side. He stroked home a penalty after Claus Jensen was sent off against his old club after just eleven minutes for handball on the line.

The dismissal made Fulham’s recovery an uphill task and the visitors never really looked like getting back into the game, even though Andy Cole lashed a 25-yarder wide with the Whites still furious at what they considered a contentious penalty award. Bolton nearly doubled their lead when Kevin Nolan seized on some slack marking to fire Bruno N’Gotty’s long free-kick goalwards but van der Sar adjusted brilliantly to keep out his volley. Okocha fired wide after a fine move but the Nigerian captain had a hand in Bolton’s second on 33 minutes.

Nolan’s fourth goal of the season arrived when Kevin Davis flicked on Okocha’s deep cross and the English midfielder guided a header past van der Sar at the back post. He almost extended the lead eight minutes before the break but criminally missed his kick from Okocha’s pass when he appeared certain to score.

Bolton came out on the front foot in the second half, with Giannakopolous denied by van der Sar before the visitors stunned the Reebok by making light of their numerical disadvantage a minute later. The in-form Luis Boa Morte converted a Cole cross at the far post and Fulham suddenly harboured serious ambitions of a comeback. Cole almost outstripped N’Gotty for pace when he chased a Clark through ball and Malbranque had a long-range effort blocked.

But Bolton restored their two-goal lead nine minutes after the break when a poor clearance by van der Sar allowed Nolan to play in Giannakopolous, who finished clinically. The Greek winger then had a header deflected wide as Fulham had to soak up real pressure before mounting their own late charge. McBride was denied by Nicky Hunt’s timely intervention on the line and Ricardo Gardner hooked away an effort from Collins John. Defeat still leaves Coleman’s side looking over their shoulders at the wrong end of the table.

BOLTON WANDERERS (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Hunt, N’Gotty, Ben Haim, Candela (Gardner 84), Hierro (Fadiga 84), Nolan, Okocha, Speed, Giannakopoulos; Davies. Subs (not used): Poole, Jaidi, Pedersen.

GOALS: Okocha (pen 13), Nolan (33), Giannakopoulos (54).

FULHAM (4-4-2): van der Sar; Volz, Rosenior, Knight, Goma; Clark, Jensen, Malbranque (Radzinski 80), Boa Morte; Cole (John 82), McBride. Subs (not used): Crossley, Bocanegra, Pembridge.

BOOKED: Rosenior, Boa Morte.

SENT OFF: Jensen.

GOAL: Boa Morte (47).

REFEREE: Dermot Gallagher (Oxfordshire).