They wanted to use this contest as a springboard to their season – but just as they were about to hit the water West Ham turned a well-executed dive into a messy bellyflop. In turn Kevin Nolan's injury-time equaliser threw a hopeful lifeline to Bolton at the moment it appeared they were continuing to walk the plank towards relegation.
The frustration was palpable for the West Ham manager, Alan Curbishley. He hurled a water bottle down in bitter frustration as Nolan stole ahead of Lucas Neill to flick home Lubomir Michalik's header forward. "Whatever way you get to the 94th minute you should see the game out," Curbishley said. "But we were disorganised, I thought we were 1-0 down. We needed to be a bit professional to kill the game off. It was self-inflicted."
Bolton's new manager, Gary Megson, meanwhile, will point to two draws in his first two league matches as evidence that he is shoring matters up – without top-scorer Nicolas Anelka. Megson's faith in two of the apparent miscreants under his predecessor, Sammy Lee, was also vindicated. Gary Speed, the 38-year-old former player-coach, made his first start since falling out with Lee while the point was earned by Nolan, his first goal of the season, who also endured his differences with Sam Allardyce's successor.
"They could not have done more today," Megson said. "They ran themselves into the ground." There was also an acknowledgement that Bolton have gone back to basics. It will be a route-one approach. "It's no criticism of Sammy Lee, but we have a few issues to sort out," Megson added. "They are purely footballing ones."
It appeared that Curbishley had similar issues. He didn't complain about "how hard" his players worked but, damningly, declared that "a lot of that energy was wasted". With 12 injured players – and Hayden Mullins lost yesterday after hurting his foot – there is mitigation. "We had big plans pre-season," Curbishley said. "But that got scuppered in the second week when we started losing players." Much is always made of such lists which are, often, a convenient excuse. Indeed, the reasons have been scrutinised at board level. But given the high number of so-called "impact" injuries, Curbishley's training methods have been absolved. It appears to be down to bad luck.
It meant the West Ham goal came from the unlikeliest of sources. It is a curiosity of their season that all the goals have been claimed by British players and there was another when George McCartney spectacularly volleyed in. Even more curious was the fact that it was the left-back's first club goal. And this in his 196th appearance, 40 for West Ham. But after Matthew Upson's shot had been hacked off the line the defender challenged Kevin Davies and the ball fell to McCartney, who thumped it into the net.
It sparked Bolton into life, with McCartney quickly having to clear El Hadji Diouf's goal-bound shot. Soon after, a crisp drive from Danny Guthrie thudded back off the post. West Ham appeared to have weathered matters and escaped again as Kevin Davies' header skimmed the crossbar and Jonathan Spector scrambled back to block Diouf's flick. But then came Nolan's intervention.
Goals: McCartney (20) 1-0; Nolan (90) 1-1.
West Ham United (4-1-4-1) Green; Neill, Gabbidon, Upson, McCartney; Mullins (Spector, 50); Boa Morte, Solano, Bowyer (Pantsil, 85), Etherington; Cole (Camara, 72). Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Reid.
Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Hunt (McCann, 82), Meite (Michalik, h-t), O'Brien, Gardner; Campo; Guthrie, Nolan, Speed (Samuel, 78), Diouf; Davies. Substitutes not used: Al Habsi (gk), Giannakopoulos.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
Booked: West Ham Bowyer, Pantsil; Bolton Hunt.
Man of the match: Etherington.
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