This was a crucial game for the superstitious - West Ham were bottom with Bolton only one point ahead. The superstition is that the team that was bottom of the table on Christmas Day has always been relegated from the premiership and this was both teams last game before that. So whoever lost this game would be subject to 'the curse of christmas' and surely doomed. In the end, of course, neither won, which suited Bolton not West Ham.
Bolton reverted to a 4-4-2 formation with the return of Bruno N'Gotty and he was subjected to a hard start as West Ham attacked from the kickoff. Jaaskelainen made the first save from a Carrick lob and Pearce headed wide. The centre half turned centre forward fared better on the quarter hour though when Defoe looped a ball behiond the defense and he ran onto it. Pulling square inside the penalty area he finished calmly past Jussi to put West Ham into the lead. A good finish considering his makeshift role, but TV footage showed he had been offside when Defoe played the ball through. More on offsides (or not) later.
This might have been the cue for a rise in confience in West Ham but where they are, confidence is hard to come by. In fact, West Ham became very nervous about the lead they had and Bolton came into the game. Pedersen turned in the area and beata James only to see his shot come back off the post. Djorkaeff played a free kick square when everyone expected him to go for goal, allowing Frandsen to fire in a ferocious shot that James did well to palm away. Okocha was having a good game and one fo his efforts deflected wide with James stranded. Despite being 1-0 up, the hammers appeared to be rocked back and short of ideas and Bolton looked the most likely to score the next goal.
After Half time (and apparently a good shouting by Glenn Roeder) West Ham proved more aggressive and positive. Whitlow’s arrival at half time gave the Bolton defense more steel and Riocketts came on for Djorkaeff (who was in fact carrying a rib injury) and injected more movement up front. Thus the breakthrough came Bolton's way, Okocha juggling in the area to loop a pass over the line which Ricketts clipped past James. The West Ham defense appealed for offside but Ricketts was in fact dead level with the static defensive line. The last 20 minutes were fraught as both sides tried to win the game and gain the extra points. Okocha had a shot charged down, Joe Cole went down in the area after a solo run but didn't gain a penalty and Sinclair headed wide when unmarked.
After the game, Glenn Roeder criticised the referee for the Bolton goal and Cole's penalty claim. Unfortunately TV coverage showed not only was the ref right on both of these calls, but West Ham also got away with being offside for their goal, so maybe we do criticise refs a bit too quicky these days :). It has to be said a draw wasn't really what either team wanted as a win for West Ham would have got them off the foot of the table, and a win for Bolton would have moved them nearer safety as well. But a draw suited Bolton in that the christmas curse is now on Upton Park rather than the Reebok.