The curious case of Kevin Nolan

It is the evening of 11th November 2012 and Kevin Nolan’s fifth goal of the season against his former club, Newcastle United has secured a 1-0 win for the club he captains, West Ham. The win lifts United to sixth in the table with 18 points from the first 11 games of the season; a welcome start from the recently-promoted club.

Fast forward to the evening of 4th February 2013, when I am writing this article and it is a different story. In the last three months, Nolan has been off the boil and only recently scored his first goal since the Newcastle game, a goal which proved to be just consolation against Fulham on the 30th January.

The decision to substitute Marouane Chamakh and not Nolan resulted in some fans booing Allardyce in the game against Queens Park Rangers, which begs the question: why has Nolan’s form dropped?

Nolan had a brilliant game against Stoke, the week after his heroics at St. James’ Park; he was battling for every ball, giving the defence a run around and giving nothing less than 100 per cent.

Since then several games have passed with Nolan failing to impress; matches with Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United (three times), Chelsea, Liverpool, West Bromwich Albion, Reading, Sunderland, Queens Park Rangers and Arsenal before the Fulham game.

Whilst the win over Swansea also saw an improvement, Nolan probably wouldn’t be happy with his performance. His dip in form coincided with West Ham's; since that win at Newcastle the Irons have won just three times, one of which - the win against Norwich City - was a game for which Nolan was suspended.

In the 2-1 victory on New Year’s Day, Nolan was replaced by the returning Jack Collison who put on a solid performance for the team. Nolan’s midfield partner, Mark Noble, simply stole the show; with his passing and tackling being top notch he showed a drive that has been lacking from Nolan’s game since the Stoke City game.

So maybe, the dip has been because the team has not been playing well. If the team starts picking up we may see Nolan playing well too.

Nolan’s first season at the Boleyn Ground didn’t start well either. He looked slightly pedestrian, somewhat uninterested and without hunger to do well at his new club - similar to his current form. However he still pitched in with important goals, such as sealing our first win of the season against Doncaster Rovers (which is something Nolan has not repeated this winter).

His form picked up around the halfway point as he increased his work rate, improved his passing and looked like a Premier League player. The return of Gary O’Neil also seemed to improve his performances, although it later transpired that Nolan had an ankle operation at the end of the 2010/11 season, which may have contributed to his mediocre performances due to him not being fully fit.

Nolan appears to be undroppable, perhaps due to his influence? Yet he's a welcome change to Matthew Upson leading out the team every week. The 30-year-old has played every week this season and due to the festive period, sometimes more than once a week. Perhaps he is unfit, or simply worn out? Maybe he's been carrying a knock, which could explain why he hasn’t hit the same lofty heights he had been earlier in the season.

The loss of Andy Carroll has also coincided with Nolan’s loss of form. The two have a good partnership, which was vital in Newcastle’s promotion in 2009-10. Between them, the pair scored 37 goals in all competitions, with Nolan scoring 18 and Carroll 19 as Newcastle went up with 102 points.

The game plan, evident from Carroll’s first game was simple; get the ball up to Carroll who knocks it down for Nolan (or any other player for that matter) to smash it in. Nolan scored after 53 seconds against Fulham. The tactic also resulted in Carroll setting up another.

Nolan and Carroll are best friends, so it's reasonable to conclude that Nolan has more confidence with the England striker in the team. With Carroll back, could Nolan step up a gear again like last season? He clearly improved against Swansea with the return of Carroll.

In conclusion, they are several different contributing factors that could’ve been the catalyst for Nolan’s dip in form. These include the team’s form, fitness problems, and the injury to Carroll - or perhaps even personal problems we are not aware of.

Several fans are calling for Nolan to be dropped and for Joe Cole to be played in the middle. Could this could be the solution? If Nolan has been unfit then this will give him a much-needed rest. Joe Cole excelled in that position for Chelsea and perhaps a little competition might also help bring back the determination and desire from Nolan to be better than ever.

The last thing he needs is his own fans getting on his back; all Hammers fans should support him. Here’s to Kevin Nolan coming back, better and stronger than before.

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