Sam Allardyce felt West Ham put a marker down for their automatic promotion bid last night with a 1-0 win at Brighton. The Hammers moved up to second in the Championship after they held on to the lead given to them by Kevin Nolan's 17th-minute goal.
It was by no means a classic in front of the television cameras as Allardyce's side served up a masterclass in winning ugly. But the Upton Park manager is making no apologies for putting substance before style as he attempts to guide West Ham back to the Premier League at the first attempt.
"Our task was to capitalise on the opposition and the way they play, and if we got the first goal to defend it properly," he said. "It was very difficult towards the end as Brighton pushed us hard but our defensive unity was so good, in the end what chances did they have? It's an outstanding victory for us at a very difficult place to come and play.
"It's a great three points and it determines automatic promotion, generally, how many 1-0 wins you can get. That's what takes you where you want to go."
Brighton, by contrast, are intent on playing the sort of beautiful game West Ham were once renowned for. But, ironically, it was Gus Poyet's insistence on sticking to their patient passing, even on the edge of their own penalty area, that ultimately proved their downfall. Liam Bridcutt's touch was too heavy, allowing Nolan to nick the ball and lash his fourth goal of the season past his old Newcastle team-mate Steve Harper, making his Albion debut. But manager Poyet took responsibility for imposing his style on his players, and vowed never to resort to the long-ball game.
"Don't blame the players," he said. "I set them up to play that way. Of course I don't tell them to lose it or to give it to them. But when you play from the back you've got risk. If you kick it long, there's no risk."
Brighton & Hove Albion (4-4-2): Harper; Greer, Dunk, Painter, Jara Reyes; Sparrow (Buckley, 71), Dicker (Harley, 82), Bridcutt, Noone; Mackail-Smith, Barnes (Hoskins, 59). Substitutes not used: Ankergren (gk), Calderon.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Almunia; O'Brien, Reid, Faye, McCartney; Faubert (Baldock, 90), Diop (Sears, 54), Noble, Collison; Nolan, Carew (Piquionne, 65). Substitutes not used: Boffin (gk), Moncur.
Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).