Premier League - Sturridge brace earns Bolton win
Bolton warmed up for their impending FA Cup semi-final with a comfortable 3-0 victory over West Ham United in the Premier League at the Reebok Stadium.
The hosts took the lead thanks to a sublime finish from on-loan Daniel Sturridge with a quarter of an hour gone and could have been further ahead before Chung-Yong Lee rose unopposed to double the advantage from close range with little over twenty minutes on the clock.
The Hammers were overrun in midfield for much of the first period with neither Frederic Piquionne nor Demba Ba offering any form of outlet up front and while Avram Grant did change personnel at half time – with Piquionne and Matthew Upson leaving the fray - he left the shape of the side unchanged.
The half-time changes appeared to spark a revival of sorts but it was short lived as Sturridge capitalised on some hesitant defending to grab his second and Bolton’s third with only eight minutes of the second forty five gone.
Had West Ham beaten Stoke in the FA Cup quarter-final on March 13, today’s fixture could have been the first of a league and cup double header between these two sides and it was Grant’s post match reaction to the performance of referee Mike Jones in that defeat that saw him receive a two match touchline ban, which started today.
Grant will only further lament that cup loss and the resulting touchline ban as his side put in a fractured performance devoid of any form of defensive organisation. Marooned in the stands, the Israeli was unable – despite considerable effort – to rouse his troops from their slumber and today’s loss could prove vital come May 22.
West Ham did, in fact, pass their way into the ascendancy during the opening exchanges before handing the initiative to the hosts and as the influence of Bolton’s midfield grew, Sturridge threatened twice – first having an effort deflected wide before coming tantalisingly close to a Kevin Davies through ball.
But he was not to be denied and having received the ball from Johan Elmander on the edge of the box, he rearranged his feet and curled a wonderful effort beyond the clutches of Robert Green in the visitors’ goal.
The hesitation leading to the goal led to a heated debate between Green and Mark Noble, but it made little difference to the defending on show as West Ham lost a second. If the first goal was born of individual brilliance, the West Ham defence were complicit in the concession of the second.
The ball from Martin Petrov that found Lee unmarked near the six yard box was of considerable quality but the way in which the smallest man on the field was afforded so much time and space to pick his spot will be hard to stomach for a side that knew a draw would lift them out of the bottom three.
It could have been worse for the visitors as the match headed to the break, Martin Petrov had an effort blocked following some more shambolic defending before Sturridge headed straight at Green after another inch perfect cross from the Bulgarian.
The visitors certainly started the second half in more threatening fashion and Ba drew a solid save from Jaaskelainen right after the restart but the match was over as a contest moments later when Sturridge ran at the back four and skipped past Scott Parker before firing across Green from outside the box.
The second period was more of an evenly matched affair and although the visitors were more of a threat – particularly Ba, who hit the post with a stinging effort from outside the box – their defensive frailties remained with Sturridge spurning at least two clear cut opportunities to complete his hat-trick.
Grant may well be buoyed by a second half performance of considerable courage but his side remain in the bottom three with only six games remaining and a massive six-pointer against Aston Villa on the horizon. His opposite number, however, will be delighted with his side’s response to back-to-back league defeats and will go into next weekend’s semi-final in high spirits.