Diouf conjures relief for Allardyce

Bolton Wanderers 1 - West Bromwich Albion 1
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The Independent Football

It might have been predicted that there would be little to choose between the Premiership form book's two poorest sides but as 1-1 draws go this was as rousing a battle as they come, anxiety etched deep into the mood of opponents who dared not lose.

For Albion, without a win in nine matches now under Bryan Robson and in 13 all told, desperation translated into frantic defending as they sought to protect an early lead. For Bolton, who had suffered six consecutive defeats in their free-fall down the table, every ounce of energy went into avoiding another loss.

Bolton's reward came five minutes from time, El Hadji Diouf conjuring a huge cry of relief from the crowd. Manager Sam Allardyce's voice was probably the loudest of all, all the more so after seeing the referee, Mike Dean, turn down what he felt was "as blatant a penalty as you will see" when Kevin Nolan's shot struck the raised arm of Albion's Riccardo Scimeca.

"Apart from that, Mike had a very good game but he got that one horribly wrong," said Allardyce. "Scimeca played the ball with his arm raised over his head. Why referees don't give penalties in those circumstances is beyond me.

"Had it been given then the goal we scored could have been the winner, though even as an equaliser it was a huge goal for us. The players were under enormous pressure after the run we have had and they showed a lot of bottle."

Bolton had been fourth in mid-November, which shows how rapidly their season has seen promise turn into crisis. A goal down after 13 minutes against a side who beat them at The Hawthorns in October - Albion's only win so far - must have made them fear the nightmare was not over. Zoltan Gera, the £1.5m former Ferencvaros forward whose goal clinched that first win, put them ahead here, turning inside Ricardo Gardner to beat Kevin Poole with a low shot from 20 yards just inside the right-hand post.

Geoff Horsfield might have doubled the lead five minutes later, shooting into the side netting with only Poole to beat. Poole was given a rare start as Allardyce rested Jussi Jaaskelainen, but did not have a busy afternoon. Albion were largely pressed back into their own half, Bolton's efforts to equalise coming to a head on the half-hour as Russell Hoult saved from Kevin Davies at close range and Darren Purse blocked Jay-Jay Okocha's follow-up on the line.

When an Okocha free-kick hit the woodwork in the second half and referee Dean then interpreted the Scimeca incident as ball-to-hand, Bolton must have felt luck was still against them. But with five minutes left, a moment of quality produced the correct result, the excellent Ivan Campo finding Nicky Hunt overlapping on the right with a nicely weighted pass, Hunt's drilled cross for once evading Albion's efforts to protect their lines and Diouf blasting home from close range.