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Championship
Saturday, 21st January 2012

West Ham United 2
Nottingham Forest 1

by James May


It certainly won’t be a game that will live long in the memory but another win and finally top of the league, we have to be happy, don’t we?

The afternoon started with plenty of optimism around the Boleyn, not least knowing that even a point would see us got to the top of the Championship tree for the first time this season. We were more than aware though that we had been in this position on numerous occasions this season and blown the chance. However with Southampton not playing until Monday it was all in our own hands and we were playing a Nottingham Forest side that were third from bottom and on terrible form.

The feel good factor around the place increased further when it was announced before kick-off that James Tomkins, one of our outstanding performers this year, had signed a new long-term deal with the club. I think this news is a huge boost to West Ham, as he looks like he has all the attributes to make it far in the game and hopefully the new deal shuns away his growing list of admirers. Even Kriss Akabusi said a few inspiring words before the game to get the crowd going on a fresh January afternoon.

I think there was a general agreement from the West Ham faithful with Big Sam’s team selection as he reverted back to 4-4-2. Allardyce went with Green, a back four of Faubert, Reid, Tomkins and McCartney, a midfield quartet of Collison, Diop, Noble and Nolan and a front two of Baldock and Cole. I for one was delighted to see him opt back to 4-4-2 and to see Sam Baldock return as I feel he gives that extra edge and pace up top. His decision to go with the more attacking right back option of Julien Faubert I think was fair against an out of form and goal shy Forest side. Again I thought given their solid, yet unspectacular displays at Portsmouth, the midfield four deserved their starting places.

Unfortunately as the game kicked off, the pre match optimism seemed to vanish rather quickly. It was a very subdued, lacklustre start from the Hammers; something has been far too regular of late. A Carlton Cole booking for a perceived elbow was the only thing that really got any reaction from the crowd in a scrappy opening ten minutes.

It was Forest who certainly settled the quicker and caused us a few worries in the early exchanges. A cleverly worked corner from the visitors caught West Ham sleeping after nine minutes as Marcus Tudgay blazed over from 15 yards out. Just a couple of minutes later Lewis McGugan put one over from the edge of the area and if it wasn’t for a Winston Reid block putting the ball wide, Tudgay would have put Forest ahead in the 18th minute. West Ham just hadn’t got out of the changing rooms in the first twenty minutes. There were far too many missed place passes, a real lack of creativity and just no urgency within our play.

The Hammers fans were understandably getting restless and beginning to let the players know about it. It began to improve, slowly. Cole went down in the penalty area from what looked a clumsy challenge from the Forest centre half but referee Bates waved away the protests. This seemed to kick a bit of life into us as we began to take a bit more control of the game. In the 27th minute the ever erratic Faubert put in a delightful ball, which eluded everyone including the foot of skipper Nolan at the back post. Just a minute later we produced our first moment of real quality when Faubert received the ball from Cole, dragged it back nicely, the ball was dummied cleverly from Collison only for Noble to scuff his shot wide from the edge of the area. Much better.

However West ham didn’t continue this bit of momentum and escaped two good chances just after the half hour. Firstly Forest got round the back of West Ham and somehow Paul Anderson couldn’t convert from two yards out when the ball was squared to him. In fairness to Faubert, I think he did enough to put the Forest midfielder off. Just a minute later Marlon Harewood, who received an excellent reception on his return, just couldn’t get his shot away from four yards out.

I could hear a few boos around the stadium after a half hour where we were definitely second best to a team who cannot buy a win or a goal at the moment. The lack of width was the biggest issue for me, with no natural wide midfielder; we were relying on Faubert and McCartney to bomb on and produce the deliveries for our frontmen. There has been a lot of talk about Big Sam bringing in a striker during the window but I think a natural wide man with pace should be the priority. Matty Taylor on the left has been a huge loss as he balances the side brilliantly.

It wasn’t until the 36th minute where we created our first shot on target. Cole battled well for the ball and it eventually found its way to Collison who struck it sweetly only to see it well saved from Lee Camp. It was nice to finally work their keeper but it shows how poor a first half hour it had been.

A few minutes before half time came a big blow as ‘the wardrobe’ Bouba Diop went down innocuously in the centre of the park. It looked as though it was a hamstring injury which could be a real setback for us. Since Diop has established himself in our midfield he has been immense and for me he is massive for us, in every sense. He is the powerhouse in that midfield and drives us forward time and time again. Hopefully he will be back very soon.

Henri Lansbury replaced Diop and slotted into a bit of a roaming midfield role for the final few minutes before half-time. As the crowd began to scatter for their half-time pies and pints, the key moment in the game came. Following a West Ham corner the ball came to Lansbury on the edge of the box. He smartly played it into the area to Collison who got to the byline and fired in a cross which, according to Mr Bates, hit the Forest player’s hand. My initial thoughts were it was a tad harsh as there was little distance between Collison and Guy Moussi who was the offender. However I was as delighted as anyone as the ref pointed to the spot. Mr reliable from the spot Mark Noble blasted the pen home, despite a touch from Lee Camp to send West Ham into half time 1 up. The goal certainly silenced the inevitable boo’s that would have come and made my pint taste that much sweeter.

Half Time: West Ham Uunited 1 Nottingham Forest 0


Despite the goal in the dying embers of the first half, I’m sure Big Sam would have had a few choice words for the players in the dressing room. Once again it was not a pretty half of football and the lack of creativity and attacking threat was a real worry. But once again we were half way to getting the job done.

The second half began much like the first with Forest again playing the better football and looking more dangerous. Tudgay put it over from another well worked Forest corner, something that we were struggling to deal with throughout the game. Ten minutes into the second half Green produced a top class save to again deny Tudgay after a great run from the tricky McCleary. The resulting corner somehow beat Cole at the front post and Green but thankfully it was cleared on the line by McCartney at the back stick. Nervy times for the Hammers but somehow we were still ahead. I was beginning to think maybe this is going to be our day.

It was noticeable that early on in the second half, Allardyce had opted to revert back to 4-5-1 playing Baldock out wide left. For me, I didn’t agree with this. Baldock is all about his movement and playing on the shoulder of the last defender, I felt he was wasted out there. That being said the Baldock and Cole partnership was just not working. They were too far apart and there was a lack of link up between the two throughout so something needed to be changed.

After a worrying first ten minutes after half time, we began to look more in control and dominate possession. Collison’s shot was deflected just over before the hour mark and a minute later Lansbury went through after a Nolan header only to see his shot well saved by Camp. For the first time on the game we were starting to play some football and dominate the game.

Then, two minutes after the hour mark, the good old penalty award came to our rescue for the third time in a week. As the ball was crossed in, it appeared to hit the hand of a Forest defender and the ref had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. This one, I must say looked a little more clear cut. Noble went with the side foot this time and sent the keeper the wrong way to double our lead and his tally for the day. There was a clear sigh of relief from the fans when Noble slotted home as we could breathe a little easier with a two goal lead.

From then on we looked in control and began playing some nice stuff. The second goal clearly gave us plenty of confidence and seemed to knock the stuffing out of Forest. Noble shot wide from 20 yards as he went in search of an unlikely hat-trick. 15 minutes from time we so nearly put the game to bed when Baldock’s shot was brilliantly saved from Camp and the resulting rebound from Collison was sliced horribly wide.
The final ten minutes were very comfortable for us and it was good to see Robert Hall come on for Baldock for quarter of an hour. The youngster looked very lively, showed a few neat touches, and had a well hit free kick tipped over by Camp. The boy certainly looks like he’s got a future.

It was a real shame that with pretty much the last kick of the game Forest scored to destroy what would have been a third consecutive league clean sheet. It was a shame for Tomkins and Reid in particular who were once again impressive and are beginning to develop a great partnership back there. To be fair to McGugan, it was a tremendous strike from 20 yards leaving Greeno with no chance.

Thankfully for everyone at Upton Park supporting the claret and blue there was barely enough time for us to kick off before the final whistle was blown. Yes it was a rather uninspiring victory, a third in a row, where once again we have had to rely on Mark Noble from the penalty spot to take all three points. And yes it was against a hapless Forest side with just five points from their last ten Championship games. However I think we still have to be very happy with the result. At the end of the day, we are not playing great football at the moment but we are getting the results, which is crucial. Dare I say the signs of Champions…

At the end of the day the single priority this season is to get out of the Championship and as things stand we are well on course to do so. We are looking generally very solid at the back, which is something that you can rarely say about a West Ham team in recent times, and we are winning football matches. It would be nice to be playing more open, attractive football, and to score goals other than from the penalty spot, but I think that will come. It will be excellent to see two or three new faces in come the end of January, in particular a genuine wide man.

At least for the first time this season, the words ‘We are top of the league, say we are top of the league’ were being sung down Green Street. Let’s hope this chant continues until May.



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Solid as ever. Made crucial save from Tudgay in the second half to keep us ahead.


Julian Faubert
Provided an excellent outlet out right and didn’t stop running all game. However his crosses are incredibly erratic. One good cross, one bad cross…


George McCartney
Very steady and solid performance from the ever consistent McCartney. Defensively sound and put in two or three good crosses.


Winston Reid
Improving every game and looks to have recovered fully from his recent injury. Very strong and lost nothing in the air. MOTM.


James Tomkins
Another very solid performance. Making very few mistakes nowadays and signing a new contract with us is a major boost. A classy centre back.


Mark Noble
Actually had a poor first half hour and gave the ball away too often. Improved drastically second half and sprayed it around beautifully. Took his two penalties very well.


Papa Bouba Diop
Wasn’t really in the game before he was forced off before half-time with injury. Hopefully it’s not a bad one as he’s key in our midfield.


Kevin Nolan
Another below average performance from the captain. Plenty of vocals but lacks pace and gives the ball away far too often. His place in the side has to be questioned.


Jack Collison
Looking like he’s beginning to recapture the form before his terrible injury. Was very good on the ball and looked are most creative midfielder today.


Sam Baldock
Put in a tireless shift but received very little service from the midfield. Had one good chance well saved and had to play out of position on the left in the second half, which doesn’t suit his game.


Carlton Cole
Struggled to influence the game. Couldn’t form an understanding with Baldock and a little isolated second half. First touch must improve.


Substitutes


Henri Lansbury
(Replaced Diop 45) One good run but only given a few minutes to impress.


Robert Hall
(replaced Baldock 79) Looked sharp and quick. Some neat touches and unlucky with free-kick which was tipped over.


Frederic Piquionne
(replaced Cole 85) No time to impact the game. Not sure if he even touched the ball.


Abdoulaye Faye
Did not play.


John Carew
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Tony Bates.

Attendance: 0.

Man of the Match: Winston Reid.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Julian Faubert, George McCartney, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Papa Bouba Diop, Kevin Nolan, Jack Collison, Sam Baldock, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Mark Noble 45 Mark Noble 63                .

Booked: Carlton Cole 8          .

Sent off: None.

Nottingham Forest

Lee Camp, Chris Gunter, Wes Morgan, Joel Lynch, Greg Cunningham, Jonathan Greening, Lewis McGugan, Guy Moussi, Garath McCleary, Marlon Harewood, Marcus Tudgay.

Substitutes: Paul Anderson (Greg Cunningham 23), Dexter Blackstock (Jonathan Greening 56), Ishmael Miller (Marlon Harewood 73).

Subs not used: Karl Darlow, Andy Reid.

Goals: Lewis McGugan (90).

Booked: Guy Moussi (86).

Sent Off: None.

 
James May's Man of the Match: Winston Reid