Bolton Wanderers 1 West Ham United 0: Davies ban blows hole in Wanderers' escape plan

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The Independent Online

At the end of this match Gary Megson went on a fool's errand. It was futile and he knew it but he was stretching reason to cling on to something of value.

No player personifies the Bolton Wanderers way more than Kevin Davies. Big, awkward, hard-working and skilful, he is shorthand for the way the team played under first Sam Allardyce and now Megson. The booking he received here that will cause him to miss the next two matches is a grievous blow.

Megson went in pursuit of Peter Walton, hoping he could get the referee to rescind the yellow card even though he knew it was beyond the official's powers. It was a manifestation of desperation and forlorn hope. "It's a big blow," the Bolton manager conceded.

Just how much Davies will be missed against Middlesbrough and Tottenham Hotspur as Bolton try to preserve their place in the Premier League was all too apparent in this match. The striker scored the winner, had two efforts cleared off the line and twice flicked on for "goals" that were ruled offside. He may not be flamboyant but West Ham's defenders would testify that he dominated proceedings comprehensively.

Megson described the display as Davies' best. "Hopefully, somebody will have seen how you go about it when you play centre-forward and pick up the gauntlet," he said. "There are not too many players like Kevin and when he plays like that he's very, very difficult to contain."

West Ham barely won a ball in the air against him all afternoon. But then they lost battles all over the pitch until the closing stages when Wanderers, who moved to within two points of fourth-bottom Birmingham City with this victory, were slowed by tensions and the need to protect what they had. "A vintage Bolton performance," was the West Ham manager Alan Curbishley's verdict.

Bolton's captain, Kevin Nolan, said: "We played really well and we deserved it. It was a fantastic team performance. Now we've got four games left and if we win four we'll be safe. It's as simple as that. It's a life or death time now. None of us wants to go down and you saw that in the performance."

Davies, whose importance to the dressing room means that he will travel to Teesside and London despite his ban, felt he had played the ball when he was cautioned for a foul on John Pantsil. "I thought it was a harsh booking," he said. "In fact, I'm devastated by it. But someone else can step in now and be the hero. I hope it will be a sort of blessing in disguise."

Could Bolton escape? "Yes," he replied, sensing a pivotal moment in the campaign. "I'm excited. It's like we've set up the 'Great Escape' after such a difficult season. We showed a lot of spirit and togetherness; we got back to being a team today."

The question, with three of Bolton's four remaining fixtures away from home, is whether this conjunction has happened too late.

Goal: Davies (47) 1-0.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Al Habsi; Steinsson, A O'Brien, Cahill, Samuel; Campo; Diouf, Nolan, McCann, Taylor; Davies. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Cohen, Andranik, Giannakopoulos, Rasiak.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Spector, Ferdinand (Pantsil, 4), Upson, McCartney; Collison (Cole, h-t), Parker, Mullins, Boa Morte; Zamora (Sears, 66), Ashton. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Tomkins,

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Bolton Davies; West Ham Pantsil.

Man of the match: Davies.

Attendance: 23,043.

Bolton's survival task

*BOLTON 18th (29pts)

19 April Middlesbrough (a)

26 April Tottenham (a)

3 May Sunderland (h)

11 May Chelsea (a)

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