West Ham must improve to avoid the drop

The Hammers were soundly beaten by rampant Bolton at the Reebok on Saturday.

Bolton Wanderers 3 West Ham United 0

Suspended from the dug-out, how Avram Grant must have wished that he had been banned from Bolton altogether after this wretched afternoon at the Reebok.

The Israeli, who was fined �6,000 and sent to the stands for two games after criticising referee Mike Jones’ performance in the FA Cup defeat at Stoke City, could only look on at this Hammer horror, as two-goal Daniel Sturridge and Chung-Yong Lee condemned the east enders to a dismal defeat.

And starting with Aston Villa at home next Saturday, West Ham United certainly cannot afford any more shocking performances like this in their final half-dozen games, if they are to avoid the dreaded drop.

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With an FA Cup semi-final encounter against Stoke awaiting them at Wembley next Sunday, eighth-placed Wanderers had made two changes from the side that had lost at Birmingham City last weekend as Zat Knight and Lee came in for David Wheater and Tamir Cohen.

But any hopes the Hammers harboured of the Trotters taking an easy stroll in the Lancashire sun were soon dispelled as Johan Elmander, man-of-the-match Sturridge and Gary Cahill each threatened inside the opening five minutes.

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And as the quarter-hour mark approached, Bolton inevitably took the lead, when Elmander invited Sturridge to curl an unstoppable 18-yarder around Matthew Upson, over Robert Green and under the left-hand angle.

Minutes later, with the Hammers in total disarray, Kevin Davies took advantage of a mix-up on the right touchline before bursting into the area and driving a low, angled shot beyond both the exposed England ‘keeper and the far post.

If the visitors thought they had escaped with that let-off, they were sadly mistaken, for Wanderers doubled their lead with their very next attack.

This time, the tenacious Lee won possession in midfield before feeding Elmander down the right flank and, although the Swede’s cross proved too deep for Martin Petrov, the Bulgarian still had time to cross into the six-yard box, where the South Korean arrived on cue to plant a point-blank diving header past Green.

Having seen Lee – the shortest man on the park – beat him to that chest-high cross and claim his fourth goal of the campaign, Upson’s agony was compounded shortly afterwards, when he received attention for a cut eye.

Despite arriving at the Reebok Stadium unbeaten on their last four Premier League awaydays, the Hammers still, equally painfully, found themselves in the bottom three following last Saturday’s home defeat against league leaders Manchester United.

And before heading up into the stands to serve the first game of that two-match touchline ban, Grant had made three changes as Frederic Piquionne, Robbie Keane and right-back James Tomkins came in for Carlton Cole, Gary O’Neil and Lars Jacobsen.

But apart from seeing Demba Ba send an ambitious 35-yarder bobbling harmlessly wide, Wayne Bridge ambushed by Gretar Steinsson and Knight in the act of shooting and Thomas Hitzlsperger unleash a couple of long-rangers, there had been very little to encourage the Israeli in a totally one-sided first half.

Indeed, Grant was already waiting back in the dressing room for his team, who had been totally outplayed and both Cole and Jacobsen came on for Piquionne and Upson at the restart.

Any hopes of a Reebok revival were dispelled within six minutes, though, when Sturridge collected from Petrov on the left touchline and danced his way along the 18-yard before drilling a precision low shot beyond the grounded Green’s glove and inside the keeper’s left-hand upright.

The on-loan Chelsea striker may be cup-tied for that Trotters trip to Wembley but he looked determined to send his team-mates to the capital on a high and having claimed his sixth goal of the season in Bolton colours – and 10 in total - only a timely Tomkins’ tackle just moments later, prevented him from collecting the match-ball, too.

And after Ba saw his goalbound header clawed away by Jussi Jaaskelainen, Sturridge had another chance for his hat-trick but this time the helplessly exposed Green read his nonchalant chip to gather at full-stretch.

Likewise, Tomkins forced the Bolton keeper to claw his header out from under the angle and then Ba splintered the Finn’s left-hand post with a thunderous 25-yarder but that was the closest West Ham would come to putting any dents into an unassailable Bolton lead.

HAMMERS: Green, Tomkins, Bridge, Da Costa, Upson (Jacobsen h/t), Piquionne (Cole h/t), Noble, Parker (Spector 75), Hitzlsperger, Keane, Ba. Unused Subs: Boffin, Gabbidon, O’Neil, Obinna.

BOLTON WANDERERS: Jaaskelainen, Steinsson, Alonso, Cahill, Knight, Lee (Taylor 78), Muamba, Elmander, Petrov (Rodrigo 78), Sturridge, Davies (Klasnic 81). Unused Subs: Bogdan, Robinson, Blake, Cohen.

Referee: Lee Probert. Attendance: 25,857.

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