Sam Allardyce believes West Ham United's superior freshness proved decisive after his automatic promotion hopefuls overcame weary rivals Cardiff City yesterday. When the West Ham manager took his squad off to Dubai for a five-day sunshine break last week, their exhausted opponents underwent 120 minutes of roller-coaster emotions before eventually succumbing in the Carling Cup final penalty shoot-out defeat to Liverpool at Wembley.
The fatigue was noticeably evident for Cardiff on their return to league duty as goals in either half from Kevin Nolan and George McCartney closed the gap between West Ham and Championship leaders Southampton to just one point.
Allardyce said: "The two teams had total opposite build-ups and I think that told in the end. The tempo and momentum that Cardiff tried to achieve perhaps wasn't there because of the huge amount of effort their players exerted physically and mentally in the Carling Cup final. In this game a bit of luck is always needed."
Nolan, the West Ham captain, who returned from a three-match suspension, led by example with the opener on 43 minutes. Aron Gunnarsson conceded possession deep in his own half and Nolan curled the ball beautifully past Cardiff goalkeeper David Marshall into the bottom corner.
Despite the off-colour display, Peter Whittingham almost levelled for the home side in the second period, but the Cardiff midfielder saw his 25-yard free-kick cannon off Robert Green's left-hand post before a rare strike by McCartney sealed maximum points for the visitors with 13 minutes remaining.
The Northern Ireland full-back celebrated his 300th game for the club in style when he capitalised on a weak clearance by Ben Turner to guide the ball home for just his second goal of his career.
The Cardiff manager, Malky Mackay, whose side now lie in eighth spot, said: "We didn't have the luxury of changing too many players as we have a very small squad."
Cardiff City (4-4-2): Marshall; McNaughton, Hudson, Turner, Taylor; Mason, Gunnarsson, Whittingham, Cowie; Miller, Gestede (Vuckic, 35). Substitutes not used Heaton (gk), Kiss, Conway, Blake.
West Ham United (4-5-1): Green; O'Brien, Tomkins, Faye, McCartney; Collison, Noble, Lansbury (O'Neil, 75), Vaz Te; Nolan, Maynard (Cole, 63). Substitutes not used Boffin (gk), Potts, Baldock.
Referee C Foy (Lancashire).