Something had to give yesterday. West Ham had seven successive wins, Bolton were undefeated in nine matches, but sadly it was something else that succumbed: the dwindling sense of anticipation and excitement that is fancifully termed the romance of the FA Cup.
Just 17,120 could be bothered to turn up for this fifth-round tie at the Reebok Stadium, which said everything about where football's oldest trophy lies in the list of modern priorities. And this for a contest that could not be etched deeper in the history of the competition.
No match between Bolton and West Ham in the FA Cup can occur without reference to the first Wembley final in 1923, made famous for the intervention of PC George Scorey on his white horse, Billie, who helped avert a potential tragedy by patiently ushering spectators off the pitch. Eighty-three years ago a crowd of up to 250,000 spilled out of the stands; yesterday this match progressed to a background of empty blue seats.
It would have been nice to report that the absent thousands - the ground capacity is nearly 28,000 - had missed something special, but, sadly, that was not the case. There was endeavour and commitment in bucket loads, but sparks of invention and wit failed to make an appearance and a 0-0 draw was the right result, even if Bolton were the better of two uninspired sides.
The replay is notionally scheduled for Tuesday 7 March, but if Bolton progress in the Uefa Cup against Marseille on Thursday another date will have to be found, possibly the previous day, which will mean Bolton have four fixtures in a week. "It's not ideal," their manager, Sam Allardyce said, "but we prefer to be in both competitions. Against Marseille and West Ham we have failed to do the business at home. Our cutting edge is not where it used to be and we are paying a heavy price because of it."
Bolton, who were also held to a 0-0 draw by Marseille on Wednesday, began as if the razor blade was about to be flourished at any moment. Ricardo Gardner slalomed past Lionel Scaloni and Kevin Davies' shot would have been on target if Danny Gabbidon had not got in the way. Kevin Nolan followed that up with a volley that thudded into the turf before bouncing kindly for Shaka Hislop. The West Ham goalkeeper also had to move sharply when Davies flicked on and Nolan turned and shot after 28 minutes, and it was not until the half-hour mark that the visitors had emerged with conviction from their own half, Dean Ashton heading over from Paul Konchesky's cross.
That was a signal that West Ham had weathered the storm although the first half finished with Bolton on top. In the 43rd minute Davies gave a glimpse of the winger he used to be when he cut in from the right flank and curled a pass that Gary Speed could head, but without accuracy. In the closing seconds before the interval Anton Ferdinand gave the ball away and Nolan would have been disappointed with a shot that ballooned high over the bar.
West Ham had barely figured before the interval but they created the first clear chance of the match when Matthew Etherington crossed from the left and Ashton was unmarked at the far post. Unmarked and unsteady, because his header found the side netting.
Stelios, who had the ball in the net after 64 minutes but was ruled offside, claimed a penalty after 67 minutes, although the television replay showed that the Greek striker had made the most of Scaloni's hand on his shoulder.
The match concluded with both teams substituting both sets of strikers, a condemnation of sorts even if the West Ham manager, Alan Pardew, would not accept that. "I thought Teddy Sheringham and Bobby Zamora might nick something," he said, describing his team's defensive performance as outstanding. "We didn't play at our maximum but we got a great result." A great result for West Ham, a mediocre day for the FA Cup. In a competition of a thousand stories - slogan courtesy of BBC promotions - this match will be lucky to merit a footnote.Reuse content