Today West Ham won again, but it was another game where a strong second-half showing was needed, as the Hammers made it five wins from six to cut the gap on leaders Southampton to just two points.
Carlton Cole, one of two changes in the starting eleven, headed in superbly after a right-wing cross from Joey O’Brien, the other alteration from the week before.
Kevin Nolan then lashed in a stunning volley for his first goal in the claret and blue at Upton Park. Mark Noble’s penalty made the game safe, meaning the only low note was a hamstring injury for Sam Baldock. On the plus side, Matt Taylor returned off the bench for a late cameo after his calf injury.
Match Report from WHUFC.com:
For Big Sam, there was much to savour about his team’s 3-1 success which made it 16 points out of a possible 18. “We have become the second-half team,” he said. “At the start of the season we were the first-half team, scoring within 15 minutes of nearly every game.
“I have to say it was tough going today in the first half. It was probably down to the system we played, the 4-4-2. We weren’t controlling midfield enough and we weren’t really at the races compared to our normal form.
“The second half performance was more like we know we can be. We saw the best of our players, better movement, better options and more fluent football.
“It is always difficult to recover when you go down one nil. We have done that twice on the trot now, not that I want to carry on like that mind. It was a great win in the end, a great second-half performance and off we go to Middlesbrough on Tuesday.”
Baldock’s loss was also keenly felt, with the striker having been the most potent threat in the opening stages. “Sam got in a couple of times,” said the manager. “His injury was another reason for our first-half performance.
“One we weren’t playing very well and two, Sam had been our strongest player for sneaking behind their back four. We had him in a couple of times in the first 15 minutes but Mark Noble and Kevin Nolan couldn’t get a grip of the game.
“So we put Jack Collison into midfield, changed to a 4-3-3 and those three talented players got us control of the match. It worked an absolute treat and they never got out of their half in the second half.”
With Julien Faubert turning in a man of the match display., the manager was asked to describe the transformation in the Frenchman’s form. “It is about the atmosphere we have, and the culture we are building at the training ground. It is about being comfortable with each other and looking forward to training. Working hard and enjoying all the benefits together by producing results.
“Julien has felt comfortable in the environment for the first time. I appreciate his ability and of course someone like Julien, we had to get the best out of if we could because it was big money when he came here. Now we are seeing the benefit of him playing consistently and consistently well.
“He was well deserving of the man of the match award and long may it continue. The bottom line is he is working hard. He is creating so many opportunities to receive the ball and hurt the opposition, that is the real benefit for Julien.”
The manager also reserved special praise for Freddie Piquionne, with another star turn off the bench after his goal at the Ricoh Arena last week. He was fouled in the area for the penalty, after tremendous build-up play by Faubert and then Collison to set him free
“For the second time, Freddie Piquionne has come on and done a really good job. The only disappointing thing is he should have scored again. He needs to crown a good performance off with a goal.
“He had two headers and one he ran into with his touch. We know he is getting the chances which is the pleasing thing.”
The manager was delighted with Nolan’s “absolutely brilliant” goal, and he was keen to remind that the skipper was not signed for his creative play, good as it can be, but as a match-winner and goalscorer from midfield who operates in the final third and in and around the penalty area.
“It was the goal of the game, and his first one here which is really pleasing. The fans saw his outstanding quality. To get one at home, I hope he can kick on from there.”
It remains to be seen what changes the manager may make at the Riverside on Tuesday, with Carlton Cole suffering from cramp in the closing stages and as Baldock is set to be out for a period of time. The likes of Papa Bouba Diop and Freddie Sears will be desperate to make the 16 as will Guy Demel, who was an unused substitute.
“It is just a disappointing loss with Sam. That is why you have to go with four strikers. At least we have Freddie, John Carew and Carlton Cole still to choose from. Bearing in mind where we came from today, I thought it was an outstanding recovery and an outstanding performance in the second half.”
So good news with The Hammers maintaining their fine form, Southampton we’re coming to get you!