Avram Grant got used to ovations and adulation last season, and even during the darkest days of Portsmouth's unsuccessful struggle against relegation, the new West Ham United manager never heard a final whistle blow in a near-empty stadium.
But Upton Park was almost deserted by the time Bolton Wanderers celebrated their first victory of the season yesterday, and it was not only the closure of the District Line that had the home supporters heading for the exits early.
The faithful who suffered through last season's narrow escape from relegation will not be encouraged by what they saw, especially in their team's rearguard. Six goals conceded in two matches and only one scored does not augur well, especially with Manchester United and Chelsea the next opponents in the Premier League.
Although West Ham had much the better of the first half and would have been ahead had Jussi Jaaskelainen not saved Carlton Cole's apology of a penalty kick after 31 minutes, Matthew Upson's own goal two minutes into the second half changed the dynamic, and the confidence began to drain away from the home side. That Bolton are West Ham's bogey team, with seven successive victories over the East London side in all competitions, is surely no coincidence, their robust qualities a contrast with West Ham's brittleness. "Sometimes there are teams you are suited to playing against," Owen Coyle, the Bolton manager, said. "We had the belief that we could come here and win."
Grant, though, preferred to take heart from a brief flurry that brought West Ham back into the match after Johan Elmander headed Bolton 2-0 up. "If you saw the spirit at 2-0, this team is not going to give up," he said. "We played good football, but we missed a lot of chances."
The worst was from Cole, who dragged a penalty into Jaaskelainen's dive after he had been barged over by Gretar Steinsson. The Bolton goalkeeper had to work much harder to deflect Kieron Dyer's flick on to a post.
Bolton had been spectators for most of the first half, but two minutes into the restart they were ahead. Elmander nodded on Jaaskelainen's long free kick and Upson, diving to reach the ball before Kevin Davies, nodded it past Robert Green and into his own net. To add injury to insult, his nose had made contact with Davies's boot and he took no further part.
Grant claimed a foul, but there was no doubt about Bolton's second as Davies played a perfectly-weighted pass out to the right for Lee Chung-Yong, whose cross was firmly headed in by Elmander.
Andre Marriner's mysterious award of a second penalty for an unseen foul on Scott Parker gave Mark Noble the chance to halve the deficit, but six minutes from time Herita Ilunga miscued an attempted clearance into the path of Elmander, who scored with relish. "We had to regroup at half-time," Coyle said. "We had some things to say and I thought we showed our quality after that."
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the match: Jaaskelainen
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content