Before kick-off boss Tony Pulis was shaken by the news his proposed move for Demba Ba for a reported £7.1 million had broke down after Hoffenheim's Senegal striker failed a medical.
But the manager's mood would soon have changed thanks to a comfortable win with the goals coming either side of half-time.
Even though they were bolstered by the return of midfielder Stuart Holden, Bolton were always second best as they slumped to their fifth successive defeat on the road.
Stoke spelled out their intentions as early as the eighth minute when Tuncay Sanli skipped away from Zat Knight down the right.
But he failed to test goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, his cross-cum-shot going wide of the post.
Tuncay, who posted his top 10 goals on Facebook this week, was finding plenty of space on the flanks early on.
He tried to pick out Kenwyne Jones in the 13th minute. However he put too much weight on the cross and the ball drifted out of play.
Then Tuncay tested Jaaskelainen from distance with a chip but his opponent was equal to it. This was a good spell by the home side with Robert Huth heading narrowly over the bar in the 24th minute following a Rory Delap throw-in.
Stoke almost took the lead in the 26th minute after Bolton defender Gary Cahill lost his bearings and whipped a cross from Tuncay over his own bar.
From Etherington's corner, Huth escaped his marker, only to head wide of the post.
Bolton were struggling to get going and Holden dragged a shot wide of the post from 25 yards in the 32nd minute after striding forward.
Huth was making life difficult for Bolton by breaking into the box at every opportunity and got on the end of a Delap throw-in but was again out of luck with his effort.
Stoke made the breakthrough in the 37th minute following a corner from Tuncay.
Bolton failed to clear their lines with striker Johan Elmander heading the ball across his own area. Higginbotham took advantage, marking his return to the side by forcing it home at the back post.
Elmander then headed wide of the post following a cross from Sam Ricketts in the 46th minute. And four minutes later Holden came close to equalising, goalkeeper Asmir Begovic doing well to claw away his fine free-kick.
Back came Stoke and Tuncay got away from Knight in the 54th minute only for his effort to go over the bar.
Bolton, however, were showing signings of improvement and Knight released Kevin Davies with a superb long ball only for Huth to make a crucial block.
The visitors were rocked back on their heels, however, in the 62nd minute when Stoke made it 2-0.
Tuncay sent Etherington racing clear and the winger was tripped by Knight as he broke into the box and won a penalty.
Etherington dusted himself down and although Jaaskelainen deflected the ball onto the post it trickled over the line to the goalkeeper's disgust.
Etherington and Tuncay were causing Bolton all kinds of problems with their pace and movement.
And the visitors were looking dispirited after that second goal from Etherington, his fourth of the season.
Tuncay then cut into the area in the 84th minute but his finish was wayward, finishing nearer the corner flag than the goal as Stoke went on to seal an emphatic win.