Bolton Wanderers 1 West Ham Utd 0: Davies takes command of the air as Bolton enjoy timely lift

Relegation battle takes a twist after Megson's men give themselves hope
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The Independent Football

Bolton Wanderers, who have seemed destined for the Championship almost since the season started, gave themselves hope yesterday when they won at home in the Premier League for the first time since 1 January. Glory be, they even scored.

The victory puts them to within two points of Birmingham City, who were held at home by Everton, but, more importantly, it ended a desperate run of one win in 12 League matches in which they accrued only seven goals. With just one of their four remaining games at home they are still favourites to get relegated from the Premier League, but after this there is a chance.

It was a tense afternoon for Bolton, whose nerve seemed destined to shatter when West Ham United applied belated pressure for the final 15 minutes, but if any player personified their inclination to fight for their place with the elite it was Kevin Davies. The striker commanded the air in a manner Nat Lofthouse would have recognised and had two headers cleared off the line before he got the winner at the start of the second half.

Davies even had to leave the pitch shortly after he scored to have a dislocated finger pulled into place, but he came back and was still slogging through the Reebok going as the lone striker at the end. He left the pitch to huge applause, looking as weary as a London Marathon runner.

"Kevin battles in every game and works his socks off," his manager Gary Megson said, "but every now and again he produces a performance like that. He led the line well on his own, and brought the midfieldplayers into it by giving us time. I was delighted with Kevin and for Kevin that he got the goal."

The whole game seemed to revolve around Davies, whose booking for a dubious-looking foul on John Pantsil means he will miss Bolton's next two games. He will, as Megson, conceded, be sorely missed.

As early as the sixth minute, with West Ham coming to terms with the loss of Anton Ferdinand to a hamstring injury , he won a header from Jlloyd Samuel's cross and was denied a goal only by Jonathan Spector's clearance off his line as Kevin Nolan charged in.

Davies had another effort headed away from under the bar by Scott Parker in the 31st minute and he was probably coming round to thinking it was not going to be his day when his flick-on of Ivan Campo's free-kick nine minutes later appeared to be heading for the bottom corner when El Hadji Diouf tapped in from a range of a foot. Whether the "goal" would have stood is open to debate but Diouf, who was in an offside position, put the matter beyond doubt.

Davies began the second half as he had finished the first by having a header tipped on to the bar by West Ham's goalkeeper Robert Green but from the resultant corner he got the goal his outstanding performance deserved. Matt Taylor's corner went over his head, but the Hammers provided him with his first luck of the afternoon when Spector and Green, with Nolan providing physical encouragement, got in each other's way. The ball rebounded to the near post and Davies pounced from a range of two feet.

Hitherto, West Ham had been pretty hopeless, but with their supporters singing "you don't know what you're doing" they roused themselves and almost got an equaliser after 54 minutes. First Gary Cahill cleared off the line from Luis Boa Morte then Dean Ashton executed an outstanding overhead kick and was denied only by an excellent save from Ali Al Habsi, whose touch diverted the ball on to the bar. Bolton had the ball in the net again after 64 minutes – this time Nolan had strayed offside – but the closing minutes were wracked with home tension as West Ham pressed for an equaliser. Fortunately for Bolton, the closest the Hammers came was a low shot from Parker saved by Al Habsi.

"I've never seen a team work so hard as they did for the first 46 minutes," Alan Curbishley, the West Ham manager said. "The first half was vintage Bolton. They set about us and we couldn't cope with it. They got their points and they are still there with a chance."