"The first goal was always going to be crucial, and unfortunately they got it," said the West Ham manager, Alan Pardew. "They are a really good side, always going to test your character and patience. But I found a lot of positives because we looked competitive. I am proud of our efforts."
Not too proud, surely, of the chances which his side cast away to claim that first goal and really see how Sam Allardyce's men would react with their backs to the wall. As it was, the set-piece ploy just short of the hour produced a bonanza for Bolton. It was a left-side corner, taken by Stelios Giannakopoulos, who has just declared his undying faith to the club and spurned Liverpool's advances.
The ball was cleared, but only as far as the lurking Jay-Jay Okocha. All through the first half Okocha had been unrolling his midfield skills at frustrating West Ham and setting his own side on the attack. Now, as only he can, Okocha let fly from outside the penalty area. That shot was blocked on the line by Yossi Benayoun, the Israel international who had another fine game, but as the ball spun loose it was tucked away by Kevin Nolan.
It was the signal for Bolton to gather round to protect that lead, mostly by fair means but by other methods if necessary, as they frustrated West Ham and their excited followers, still dazed by four points from the first two games.
Six minutes from time a second goal "knocked the stuffing out of West Ham", in Allardyce's words. It was smoothly taken on the break, Okocha drilling a ball of such precision that it defeated desperate appeals for offside and sent Ivan Campo through to score at leisure. The penalty which came West Ham's way in the final minute of normal time when Nicky Hunt brought down Hayden Mullins was put away by Teddy Sheringham and ensured a lively three minutes of scuffling in added time, but no further joy for the Hammers.
A bit more finishing earlier on - along the lines of that Sheringham spot-kick - could have made all the difference to the Premiership newcomers. There was one fine, clawing save from Jussi Jaaskelainen to deny Benayoun reward for his clever, curling effort from an angle, but the Bolton keeper should have been left helpless when Matthew Etherington laid one on a plate for Harewood, only to join the general chorus of dismay as it was hoofed high and wide on the volley.
Chances like that were not easily come by against Allardyce's Fusiliers, a collection of wise heads, old heads and bald heads who looked well drilled, smooth and impressive in stifling West Ham.
Jaaskelainen saved brilliantly when Danny Gabbidon's touch-on of an Etherington shot could have confounded him, but right on the interval Etherington served up another offering for Harewood. It was wasted in much the same manner as the first. Early in the second half Etherington went off because, said Pardew, "he was feeling a bit poorly". No wonder.
Allardyce's second-half tactic was to tighten up in defence, introducing Campo in front of the back four and withdrawing El Hadji Diouf seconds after he had collected the game's first booking. Other cautions quickly followed for Kevin Davies, Giannakopoulos and Tomas Repka but it was not all hard grind, Campo lighting up the afternoon with a stunning 30-yarder which Roy Carroll managed to tip on to the bar.
West Ham removed Harewood as well as Etherington, bringing on Bobby Zamora, and the new loan man, Jérémie Aliadière and they certainly helped rouse the crowd, but failed to rattle Bolton's old pros. Aliadière's penchant for running at the opposition did bring a free-kick near the edge of the penalty area and Sheringham smacked it back into play off the underside of the bar. If that had counted, who knows?
As it was, said Allardyce: "Our character and experience told. The Premiership can be cruel if you don't take your chances. West Ham failed to take theirs and were punished." But he thinks West Ham will survive the drop.Reuse content