Hammering the Villans

Posted by Vinny Ryan

Kevin Nolan scored twice as West Ham claimed a superb victory at Aston Villa.GettyImagesKevin Nolan scored twice as West Ham claimed a superb victory at Aston Villa.

Having endured a hellish January, West Ham fans can perhaps begin to feel as if there is some light at the end of the tunnel as the club recorded back to back victories for the first time since returning to the top flight in 2012.

The 2-0 victory at Aston Villa may not be considered a major shock, but for a team that only won two games away from home in 2013 it is a result that few West Ham fans would have been expecting.

All the talk during the week was of Andy Carroll and West Ham's attempts to get his red card against Swansea City annulled so that he would not be suspended for the next three games. I understand why the club fought hard to get this ban overturned, although I don't believe I am alone in thinking there was a little bit of desperation about the whole thing.

I don't buy that West Ham were standing up in the face of injustice and bringing the play-acting of Chico Flores to the forefront. What they were doing was all about Carroll. If Joey O'Brien had been the one sent off, I don't believe West Ham would have bothered appealing.

The desperation I refer to is the way West Ham have made Carroll the be all and end all. David Gold has made reference to the player being the best at the club and whilst this comment is up for debate it doesn't reflect well on the club and its other players.

This game against Aston Villa had been largely forgotten about in the midst of two failed appeals and there were questions as to how the players would react to Carroll's absence, but these questions were answered in style.

The hero of the day for the second game running was captain Kevin Nolan, who scored a brace for the second consecutive game. Nolan has come in for criticism this season and a lot of it has been justified in my humble opinion, but he has done what he does best during the last two games and that is to score goals.

If Nolan had come in for criticism then Sam Allardyce has been bombarded, with fans calling for his sacking. Whilst I am obviously pleased with the recent form I make no apologies for my criticism of the manager and I would hope no one else would either. Criticism of tactics, preparation coming into the season and results have been fully merited.

Carroll and his absence has kept Allardyce in a job (along with there being no obvious candidate to replace him) with the owners having backed the signing and publicly spoken of how much they rate the player. Carroll's injury and subsequent failure to bring in another quality striker ensured that Allardyce could always argue that sacking him would be unfair as the linchpin to the entire team plan rested on this one player.

If Carroll had returned to the squad in October and the club went on the poor run of form they eventually did, I believe Davids Gold and Sullivan would have given Mr Allardyce his marching orders.

But whilst I'll stay confident in my own opinions of the season so far and the manager I am not narrow minded when it comes to giving praise; the way the players have dug in since the away game at Chelsea has to be applauded.

The defensive displays of late have been nothing short of remarkable and Allardyce does deserve credit for making the team so hard to break down. West Ham have now kept 12 clean sheets this season, which is more than any other Premier League club. I find this a remarkable statistic given the team's struggles. To keep 12 clean sheets in 25 games is magnificent.

The last few games have also seen a largely settled side, with Matthew Taylor coming into the centre of midfield in the absence of Mohamed Diame and Ravel Morrison. Taylor is not the most fashionable player and has endured a lot of criticism, but I have to single him out as a real star performer over the last three games. Unlike Diame and Morrison he is really digging in.

The trouble with Diame and Morrison is for all their talent they strut around the pitch as if they have achieved something and neither have done anything in their careers to warrant such action. It makes sense to me now why Diame could not get into a Wigan Athletic side who were fighting relegation. Roberto Martinez is no fool and he knew that in such a battle he was not the type of player you need. He won't be walking back into the team when he returns from injury.

The first half against Aston Villa was a positive one from a West Ham point of view and going in at half time I believe the away side had just shaded it. It wasn't a half of great chances, but Stewart Downing should have given the travelling Hammers something to cheer about as a cross from Matt Jarvis saw the former Villa player miss his shot and the chance went begging.

Carlton Cole had battled bravely during the first period, but Sam Allardyce unleashed new Italian loan signing Marco Borriello for the second half and whilst not directly involved in either goal it only took 18 seconds for West Ham to draw first blood as Downing did really well to get the ball across for Nolan to superbly flick into the goal.

There were great scenes in the away end as the Chicken dance was in full flow from the captain and he would be clucking again just a couple of minutes later as Nolan robbed Fabien Delph and finished calmly. If the scenes in the away end were good for the first goal, this one really caused a stir as the long suffering West Ham fans really had something to cheer about.

And whilst West Ham rarely threatened again, everyone can be delighted with a fully professional defensive performance. Players were digging in and throwing themselves at everything. Yes, luck needed to be ridden but whenever you play away in the Premier League luck plays its part.

They don't call it a "relegation battle" for nothing. After the 6-0 defeat at Manchester City the team looked as though it didn't have the stomach to strive for survival, but the last few weeks have shown that this squad does have the fight and the gloves are off.

Next up is must-win match against Norwich City at Upton Park. If Allardyce can secure a third win in a row the club, bizarrely, will be looking up rather than down, which seemed so very unlikely just a few weeks ago.



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