Sam Allardyce's concerns over Bolton Wanderers' lack of goals can be put to bed for the moment as West Ham United's troubles deepened on a rainswept night in Lancashire that plunged beleaguered manager Alan Pardew back into the icy grip of crisis.
Bolton's fall away from the leading group could probably be blamed on an aggregate of only 15 goals from 16 matches before last night, but that shortcoming disappeared as Kevin Davies (with two), El-Hadji Diouf and Nicolas Anelka combined to inflict a third straight defeat on the London side, whose victory over Arsenal last month seems now less the portent of any recovery than a mere blip in a generally downwards slide.
In a season that has already seen them career through one run of eight defeats in a row, Pardew's team now have the unwelcome distinction of losing 10 consecutive away matches. The victory over Arsenal was the middle leg of a three-game winning sequence at home but their inability to build any semblance of consistency probably means that a season in which they qualified for Europe is destined to be followed by one spent fighting relegation.
There were extenuating circumstances last night, when the loss through injury of the central defender Anton Ferdinand from a back four already lacking Danny Gabbidon left Pardew to patch up by pairing George McCartney with James Collins, a combination untried even in training.
"It was always going to difficult coming here, against one of the most physical sides in the division, but that made it all the more so," Pardew said. "We missed Anton's organisation of things in particular."
A week ahead of Manchester United's visit to Upton Park, he acknowledges, however, that the pressure on him to reverse his team's fortunes is growing, even though he was unaware - fortunately, perhaps - of the range of pained expressions captured by the television cameras on the face of new chairman Eggert Magnusson, sitting in the new stands. "This is a new experience for us after last season, when everything went so well," Pardew said. "I hope the new owners have the patience to give me time [to put it right]."
Magnusson will have deduced quite early that it would not happen on this occasion, even before the problems in West Ham's defence were exposed by Bolton's opening goal, when no one could intervene as the ball flew back and forth across the penalty area via Gary Speed and Diouf before Davies applied the finishing touch inside the six-yard box.
Disappointingly after his recent progress, the Argentinian international Carlos Tevez found it difficult to make much of an impression, although West Ham's system, with Marlon Harewood deployed as lone striker, tended to somewhat isolate him from the play.
He gave way to Teddy Sheringham on the hour as Pardew perhaps wondered if his own veteran could take centre stage on the occasion that Speed - by comparison, a mere youngster at 37 - celebrated his supremacy in the Premiership's longevity contest by making his 500th appearance. But it was asking a lot of the 40-year-old.
By then West Ham had fallen further behind, Davies again pouncing in the six-yard area. Having kept out Anelka, deflecting a shot from the Frenchman wide of Robert Green's goal, Pardew's rearguard allowed Ivan Campo to be first to Speed's corner kick and Davies darted in front of Green to flick the Spaniard's downwards header into the net.
Two goals in the space of a minute turned an unpromising situation into a hopeless one for a frustrated Pardew. Diouf scored the home side's third, skipping through a pack of defenders with little hint of impediment before poking the ball wide of the former Norwich goalkeeper, Green. Anelka joined the rout with his third goal in Bolton colours, running on to the influential Speed's pass to sweep home the fourth as Pardew resigned himself to a third straight defeat and the realisation that his own crisis may be just beginning.