It was a win which Sam Allardyce described as "one of the best" of his career. Despite playing for 82 minutes with 10 men, West Ham outplayed Millwall and while some fans have been underwhelmed with the style of football this season, this was a demonstration of the very best of Allardyce. West Ham played with discipline, nerve, efficiency and unquestionable commitment to overcome the early dismissal of Kevin Nolan.
Carlton Cole, who headed the first goal, and Winston Reid, who volleyed the second, were both very good, but Mark Noble and James Tomkins, outnumbered but never outfought in midfield, were exceptional.
Allardyce agreed it could be a "defining moment" in the push for promotion, coming four days after a 5-1 defeat at Ipswich. "It was a win we thoroughly deserved and a fantastic performance," he said. "After the disappointment on Tuesday it makes it a very, very satisfying performance and result for all the players."
The reason it was so impressive was because only nine minutes in Nolan launched himself like a long-jumper towards Jack Smith's shins. This was a clear example of excessive force and Nolan was rightly dismissed.
Millwall had the extra man, but lacked the skill and ambition to make him count. The longer the first half went on the less disadvantaged West Ham looked. Noble, who took on Nolan's armband, took on his playing duties too, making so many tackles, passes and runs that he made up for his absent captain.
It was Noble who supplied the ball for the opening goal. His long free-kick was headed on by Reid and Cole outmuscled Darren Ward to head the ball past David Forde.
Early in the second half Millwall finally started to stretch West Ham and, thanks to an exceptional piece of skill, equalised. Darius Henderson hooked the ball from the by-line back to the edge of the box, where Liam Trotter adjusted his body to volley into the far top corner. This is a West Ham team of remarkable resilience, though. Avram Grant's relegation side of last year would surely have folded having lost the lead, but Allardyce's did not: within three minutes they were in front.
Forde chose to punch a cross, and Julien Faubert ran into him. The referee, surprisingly, did not whistle and Reid volleyed into the empty net. "You won't see a better volley than that in the game this weekend," Allardyce said. Millwall's manager, Kenny Jackett, thought it was a foul, and probably had a case.
But a team that creates so little in 82 minutes of 11 against 10 football does not warrant too much sympathy. The gleeful celebrations at the final whistle, Cole embracing Allardyce, told of a job exceptionally well done.
West Ham (4-1-4-1): Green; O'Brien, Reid, Faye, McCartney; Tomkins; Faubert (O'Neil, 80), Noble, Nolan, Collison (Taylor, h-t); Cole (Vaz Te, 89).
Millwall (4-1-4-1): Forde; Dunne, Ward, Lowry, Barron (Kane, 56); Smith; Keogh, Trotter, Abdou, Feeney (Mason, 81); Henderson.
Referee: Mike Jones
Man of the match: Noble (West Ham)
Match rating: 8/10Reuse content