West Ham reached the top of the Championship last night despite a performance which was conspicuously average. They beat Nottingham Forest2-1 thanks to two Mark Noble penalties, the first of which was a mystifying award at the end of an underwhelming first half.
The first 45 minutes were a perfect example of why, despite their top spot, the West Ham United fans are not yet fully enthused about the season. "It wasn't our best of days," said their manager, Sam Allardyce, "but when you can dig one out when you're not on your best form it shows the players' resilience and commitment."
West Ham's approach largely consisted of long diagonal balls to Kevin Nolan and Carlton Cole. Nolan nearly forced in George McCartney's near-post cross after 12 minutes, but there was lack of imagination about West Ham's attacking play. In his programme notes Allardyce bemoaned the fact that West Ham had scored just six goals in their previous eight games, and it was not difficult to see why.
Forest had their own goalscoring woes – they had failed to score in 10 of their previous 11 games – but their attacking play in the first half was surprisingly skilful. Finishing, not creating, was their problem. Marcus Tudgay missed his first chance after 10 minutes, shooting over from a corner. Three minutes later Lewis McGugan arrived on to Chris Gunter's cross but shot over. Soon after, Tudgay had a shot from a similar position deflected over. "We could have been 2-0 or 3-0 up," their manager, Steve Cotterill, claimed.
With so many chances missed it seemed unlikely to be Forest's day, an impression reinforced in first-half stoppage time. Guy Moussi blocked Jack Collison's right-wing cross from close range, and, to the surprise of the whole stadium, a penalty kick was awarded.
"It's blatantly not a penalty," Cotterill said afterwards. Even Allardyce described it as "quite fortunate". Mark Noble, characteristically reliable, gave West Ham a lead their play had not deserved.
Forest's confidence was as fragile as could be expected: once behind, they offered little in the second half. West Ham, who announced that James Tomkins has signed a new long-term contract, started to improve: Jack Collison could not reward a delightful run with a finish to match, and Henri Lansbury forced a springing save from Lee Camp.
Two minutes later another ball into Forest's box bemused Gunter, who could only stop it with a hand. This time the award was in keeping with the run of play, and Noble's conversion was again precise.
With a two-goal lead, there was little question of West Ham failing to complete the victory which would send them top, even after Forest scored a late consolation. Having missed easier chances when it mattered, McGugan contrived a brilliant but meaningless goal, hammering the ball in left-footed from 25 yards in stoppage time.
West Ham United (4-3-1-2) Green; Faubert, Tomkins, Reid, McCartney; Noble, Bouba Diop (Lansbury, h-t), Collison; Nolan; Baldock (Hall, 78), Cole (Piquionne, 85).
Nottingham Forest (4-3-1-2) Camp; Gunter, Morgan, Lynch, Cunningham (Anderson, 23); Moussi, McGugan, Greening (Blackstock, 56); McCleary; Harewood (Miller, 73), Tudgay.
Referee: Anthony Bates
Man of the match: Tomkins (West Ham)
Match rating: 3/10Reuse content