Impressive Carroll leads the charge

Posted by Peter Thorne

Andy CarrollGettyImagesAndy Carroll leaps to open the scoring for West Ham

On a bitterly cold afternoon more redolent, meteorologically speaking anyway, of Boxing Day than an Easter Saturday, West Ham warmed up the atmosphere at Upton Park with an emphatic 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion, led by a Man-of-the-Match performance from Andy Carroll.

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Carroll terrorised the West Brom defence all afternoon and if he missed any ball played up to him then I must have blinked and missed it. Together with an equally impressive performance from the West Ham rearguard and a tantalising display from Matt Jarvis on the wing, this was a result that surely quelled any last lingering doubt that the Hammers would get embroiled in the end-of-season relegation scramble.

It was the Baggies who threatened early, Graham Dorrans getting in a long-range effort that Jussi Jaaskelainen just managed to get a hand too, the resulting corner being headed in by Gareth McAuley only for the referee to correctly spot a push on the West Ham keeper. If that was close though, more was to follow.

Awarded a free-kick, West Brom's Romelu Lukaku's shot seemed to take a deflection as Jaaskelainen brilliantly pushed the ball onto the post. Upton Park held its collective breath as the ball looked certain to deflect into the net, only for it to somehow bounce into the arms of the Hammers' stopper as the crowd swopped the sighs of relief for genuine laughter. It may not appear so on TV replays but, in the ground, the angle seemed all wrong for the ball to stay out.

Albion were to rue that opportunity though as, with 16 minutes on the clock, Carroll rose above the Baggies defence and powered in a header. It was almost simple in its execution but it belied a mastery of the high ball that West Brom were not able to compete with all afternoon.

Matt Jarvis wasted a golden opportunity minutes later as Carroll headed down into his path and the winger's shot rose to sail just over the bar, but the relief of the visiting fans didn't last for long as Gary O'Neill scored a brilliant second for the Irons just before the half-hour.

It started with excellent defensive work that allowed Ricardo Vaz Te to embark on a mazy run that finished just on the edge of the opponent's area before the Portuguese player slipped the ball to O'Neill, who beautifully curled his shot into the corner with Ben Foster nowhere. It was the type of assist and goal that Sam Allardyce has been calling for most of the season.

West Ham saw the rest of the half out without too much problem - having a very good shout for a penalty turned down by referee Andre Marriner just on the break - but came under immediate pressure early in the second half. It was here where the defence stood up to Albion with James Collins looking particularly strong while Joey O'Brien - having a blindside run to the Hammer of the Year title - excited the crowd with some resolute tackling.

West Ham eventually took the sting from the game and started to come back into it with Carroll time and time again leading the line with flicks and hold-ups while even, on occasion, winning the ball high in his own area, if required. The interesting thing about this part of the game was that it clearly showed that West Bromwich Albion and the Hammers were pretty much on an equal footing, but the Irons were able to edge in front purely because of the extra class shown by their bigger names. As a pointer to the future, it was very encouraging.

Even for those Upton Park faithful who live in fear of the great Hammer's collapse, Carroll's second and West Ham's third goal calmed all the nerves. It came on 80 minutes as the Geordie striker brilliantly brought down a Collin's free-kick, allowing it to drop over his shoulder before volleying in. The striker celebrated wildly in front of the Bobby Moore stand, as well he might.

Albion brought on Peter Odemwingie for Claudio Yacob - providing the second laugh of the afternoon as the West Brom supporters booed the winger on as the Hammers fans, bizarrely, cheered him, while Sam Allardyce countered by calling on George McCartney for Guy Demel to quell the threat on the left from the Nigerian winger.

The home side then suffered a late scare as McCartney, a player who has suffered from injury all season and was only just returning, limped off leaving the Hammers down to ten men as they had already bought on Matthew Taylor and Jack Collison. Sad to see the defender limp off and I have a feeling this may be the end of George's second stint with the Irons.

No sooner had McCartney left than Albion were awarded an 88th minute penalty when Taylor apparently fouled Lukaku in the box; Dorrans scoring what was always only going to be a consolation, before the third laugh of the afternoon arose through the actions of Youssof Mulumbu.

Mulumbu was fouled by O'Neill in a meaningless tussle just outside the West Brom area, the Congolese midfielder seemingly awarding himself a free-kick by grabbing the ball and drop kicking it into O'Neill as he was running back. Referee Marriner showed the red - I'm not sure if it was for the deliberate handball or, more likely, the petulant kick - before a spot of handbags ensued as the players gathered to push each other around a bit, ensuring the crowd had a good laugh before unfreezing themselves from their seats prior to leaving.

The 3-1 scoreline was a good indication of the way the match had gone and Sam Allardyce must be pretty pleased with his team's performance in what should have been a tricky fixture. Surely now - to use the vernacular - West Ham can look up instead of down. They may also be looking into the kitty to see if they really can tempt Andy Carroll to stay next season.

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