"It will be different on Wednesday," Alan Pardew, the West Ham United manager, insisted repeatedly in the aftermath of his side's crushing defeat.
He is probably right, but the prospect of facing Bolton Wanderers again, for the fifth time this season, in an FA Cup replay, must now be a daunting one. They lost the Premiership match at Upton Park last August, and three trips to the Reebok Stadium since have yielded elimination from the Carling Cup, Wednesday's replay and, most recently, a humbling League defeat.
Bolton were a revelation in the first half on Saturday. As Sam Allardyce, their manager, quite correctly noted: "Sometimes it's the physical side of our game that gets pointed out but today it was all about the pure football side. All the team played at their top level and we would have been a match for anyone on the day."
Jay Jay Okocha, Kevin Nolan and Stelios Giannakopoulos were Bolton's inspiration. The latter two have now contributed 21 goals between them this season while those who choose to stereotype Allardyce might like to note his imagination in converting Okocha, the most individual of talents, into a deep-lying midfielder. "The range of passing Jay Jay's shown and his vision are fantastic and it's opening teams up for us," Allardyce said.
Bolton went ahead through Stelios and the Greek midfielder applied the subtlest of deflections to Nolan's long-range shot to overtake his team-mate as the club's leading scorer. Gary Speed's overhead kick, after West Ham had failed for the umpteenth time to deal with a set-piece, gave them a three-goal advantage at the interval.
The rest of the game was academic, with Teddy Sheringham pulling a goal back before Henrik Pedersen celebrated his return from injury with a spectacular first of the season.
As well as Bolton played, the suspicion remains that West Ham were instrumental in their own downfall. Pardew accepted responsibility for a team selection that saw his two first-choice forwards left on the bench and Anton Ferdinand pushed into midfield.
Pardew was trying to compensate for the absence of his captain, Nigel Reo-Coker, but it left Elliott Ward, on his full Premiership debut, to deal with the inevitable Bolton onslaught in central defence.
"I genuinely feel there is a possibility that Anton could play in midfield next year so I wanted to give it a try," said Pardew, who expects Reo-Coker to be available for the final instalment of the saga. "It didn't work out but I still think he can do it and so does Anton. It's the first game this season that's really gone away from us and I think we will be better on Wednesday. I know what we're going to do." Maybe, but the smart money is surely on Bolton reaching the last eight.
Goals: Stelios (11) 1-0; Stelios (32) 2-0; Speed (45) 3-0; Sheringham (78) 3-1; Pedersen (81) 4-1.
Bolton Wanderers (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; O'Brien (Hunt, 66), Jaidi, Ben Haim, Gardner; Stelios (Pedersen, 75), Okocha (Nakata, 84), Speed, Nolan, Vaz Te; Davies. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Borgetti.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Hislop; Scaloni, Gabbidon, Ward (Dailly, 46), Konchesky; Newton (Benayoun, 46), Ferdinand, Mullins, Etherington; Sheringham, Zamora. Substitutes not used: Bywater (gk), Harewood, Ashton.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Bolton Vaz Te; West Ham Scaloni, Sheringham, Ferdinand.
Man of the match: Stelios.
Attendance: 24,461.Reuse content