West Ham United were frustrated travellers again on Saturday afternoon as they lost narrowly at relegation-threatened Bolton Wanderers.
Kevin Davies scored the only goal of the game just after half-time to leave Alan Curbishley's side, who saw Dean Ashton go the closest to earning a point, still in tenth place. Not even the second-half introduction of Carlton Cole and Freddie Sears could turn things in the visitors' favour, meaning they have now not won in the last six trips to the Reebok Stadium.
Alan Curbishley gave Jack Collison his first start with Ashton operating in a lone striker's role, supported by Luis Boa Morte and Bobby Zamora on the flanks. Matthew Upson was also back for the first time since 5 March but his defensive partner Anton Ferdinand appeared to pull a muscle in his leg after two minutes. John Pantsil came in at right-back with Jonathan Spector pushed inside.
The versatile US international was needed almost immediately, doing superbly to read a goalbound header by Davies after the Bolton forward had outjumped Upson at the back post. The home side went into the contest four points adrift of safety and were buoyed by that early chance. A number of balls were played into Robert Green's penalty area with the busy goalkeeper experimenting with a cap to keep out the sunshine on a clear but chilly day in the north-west.
Ashton had the first real opportunity on ten minutes with a low shot into Ali Al Habsi's hands but Bolton looked the most likely. With just over quarter-of-an-hour played, Jloyd Samuel played a neat one-two with Matthew Taylor and fired in on Green but the goalkeeper was well placed to save. Spector and Upson were being kept on their toes with Davies seeing much more of the ball than Ashton at the other end.
The Bolton forward soon thought he had broken the deadlock with another header only for Scott Parker to be the United hero this time, flicking the ball up and away to safety from underneath the crossbar. Talking of heroes, the travelling faithful were in good voice as usual - not least the small band of supporters among the 23,043 in the crowd dressed up as comic-book favourites like Superman and Spiderman.
As the half wore on Andy O'Brien tested Green with a decent header, Ashton's surging run finished with a shot that flashed wide and Pantsil saw his name taken for a strong challenge on Davies. Within a minute, the impressive home striker's frustration was compounded when his flicked header looked certain to have beaten Green only for El Hadj Diouf to inexplicably help the ball over the line from an offside position.
The second half began with Davies again shaking his head - but not for long. With just 32 seconds played, he rose to head goalwards but Green was able to punch spectacularly over the bar. From the corner, though Davies pounced to finally put the ball in the net after Spector and Green had collided. Bolton were on a high and Diouf fizzed one in low that the visiting keeper saved. By now, Davies was off the pitch getting treatment for a dislocated finger.
Carlton Cole's arrival for Collison livened up the visitors, and within a minute or two Boa Morte found himself unmarked from 12 yards only for Gretar Steinsson to block his goalbound shot. Then, Cole knocked down for Ashton to send an overhead kick in on Al Habsi but the keeper did well to push the acrobatic effort on to his crossbar and behind for a corner. Bolton were still a threat though, not least when Davies was given a free header as the hour approached.
United were offering more in attack but Hayden Mullins spurned a good chance with a wayward shot. Bolton again had the ball in the net on 66 minutes through Kevin Nolan after Diouf's shot was saved but he was rightly adjudged to be offside. That led to the introduction of Sears for Zamora. Ashton then had a low shot saved before Davies was cautioned for a foul on Pantsil - earning him a two-match ban for ten yellow cards this season.
As the game entered its final stages, neither keeper was really tested until the 85th minute when Parker's shot was just tipped behind by Al Habsi. As Bolton sat back, West Ham United pushed for another opening but the chance never came.