For half an hour at Upton Park on Saturday, Bolton looked to have three points towards the great escape well within their range. But then a moment of supreme professionalism by Julian Dicks turned the game.
Sasa Curcic, making his fourth or fifth penetrating run into the West Ham defence, seemed to have broken through, but Dicks, covering across, stepped in to block the Yugoslav. The West Ham captain was flirting on the very edge of legitimacy, his arms upraised as if to suggest Curcic had run into him.
Usually in these situations if the defender times it perfectly, he gets away with it, especially if playing at home. No foul was awarded, West Ham took possession and, within a few seconds, Danny Williamson was threading the ball through for Tony Cottee to open the scoring at the other end, against the run of play.
Nathan Blake had missed two good chances for Bolton prior to Cottee's goal but when, five minutes later, a third presented itself and Blake squandered that too, Bolton heads dropped. After that the Premiership's bottom club rarely failed to justify their billing, and West Ham should have won by three or four.
It was surprising to hear Colin Todd, Bolton's manager, say afterwards: "I don't know what you've got to do to win a game." Play well for more than half an hour for a start.
But, given the virtual inevitability of Bolton's relegation, perhaps Todd was attempting to dress his players wounds, rather than rub salt into them.
Bolton fans will expect Todd to be more objective next season in the Endsleigh League. They may also expect him to play his best players in their best positions. It was frustrating, even for a neutral, to watch John McGinlay being fed scraps on the right wing in order to accommodate Blake, and Alan Stubbs struggling in midfield when he should have been directing operations at the back.
With Terry Venables in the crowd, as well as the Arsenal assistant manager, Stewart Houston, the thought occurred that had Stubbs not remained with Bolton and joined a more successful club, like Arsenal, then England might have been enjoying the benefit of his ability this summer in a position which remains a source of concern.
Unless Venables was there to watch Dicks, the only player on view who will be involved in Euro 96 was West Ham's Slaven Bilic, their central defender. He already has a big reputation and he talks a good game, but there were enough stray passes there for Shearer and Sheringham to feel confident enough about the visit of Croatia to Wembley next week.
As for Harry Redknapp, his impersonation of a Cheshire Cat continues to slip out every now and then, and you can hardly blame him for enjoying the moment. But, as the Wrest Ham manager acknowledged in his programme notes, he has a busy summer ahead of him in the transfer market if the Hammers are to build on the relative success of this season.
Goal: Cottee (28) 1-0.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Bilic, Rieper, Dicks; Slater (Rowland, 44), Bishop, Williamson, Hughes (Moncur, 79); Dowie, Cottee. Substitute not used: Sealey (gk).
Bolton Wanderers (4-2-3-1): Ward; Bergsson, Fairclough, Coleman, Phillips; Stubbs, Sellars; McGinlay, Curcic, Thompson; Blake (De Freitas, 58). Substitutes not used: Paatelainen, Green.
Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-Le-Street).
Bookings: West Ham: Dowie. Bolton: Phillips.
Man of the match: Williamson. Attendance: 23,086.Reuse content