West Ham 2 Leicester City 0: Andy Carroll puts Hammers in mood for festive spell

The 2-0 victory over Leicester City pushed them closer to the top three

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Eight seasons ago Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers finished the old year in the top four of the Premier League, then won only four more games and finished seventh. Contests against Chelsea and Arsenal in the next week will give an early indication of whether West Ham United, equally unexpected high-flyers, can stay at rarefied altitude any more convincingly.

The 2-0 victory over Leicester City pushed them closer to the top three and will send the players to Stamford Bridge more confident about their attacking threat than last January, when Chelsea had 39 attempts in a goalless draw and their manager, Jose Mourinho, accused the visitors of playing “19th-century football”.

Allardyce could afford to smile at the recollection on Saturday, pointing out how significant that game had been for a team lying 18th at the time, who went on to win their next four matches: “The turning point why West Ham stayed in the division eventually was the draw at Chelsea,” he said. “That’s how important it was. It gave the lads a huge confidence boost and huge belief that they could hold a team like Chelsea off and we went from there on to make ourselves safe in the league. We’ll see what century we’re in when we finish there.”

Andy Carroll, as he often seems to be, was part of the backstory on that occasion, playing his first full game of the season and clearly less than fully fit. Against Leicester, he was more like the Carroll of old, winning high balls, knocking defenders over when he couldn’t and – more surprisingly – scoring his third goal in three games with a finish Lionel Messi would not have sniffed at. It was his 12th for West Ham and reckoned to be only the second with his feet; he should try it more often.

 

Although both goals stemmed from a long punt out of defence, by Carl Jenkinson and James Tomkins, there is greater subtlety to the play, not least because Allardyce has converted Stewart Downing, scorer of a sublime second, into an accomplished central midfielder. “It’s given him such a huge boost of confidence,” the manager said. “He’s probably playing his best football.”

Allardyce confirmed West Ham’s interest in the Canadian international centre-half Doneil Henry, the subject of a work permit application. The existing defence, which had goalkeeper Adrian to thank for three top-class saves, must face two of the country’s most formidable attacks without any reinforcement, but Allardyce said: “It’s a nice time to be playing Chelsea and Arsenal. It eases the pressure, the fact we can go there and challenge ourselves against two of the big boys and see if we can get any points. If we don’t, it’s not going to be too much of a knock-back, because we know we can catch it up by beating teams below us, which we’ve done particularly well this year.”

Leicester  have collected two points from the last 36 available. Nigel Pearson was a coach at West Bromwich when they became the first Premier League team bottom of the table at Christmas to avoid relegation, 10 years ago. He would doubtless prefer to forget they did it after changing the manager but insisted: “There are similarities. Ultimately, you do need people who have the strength of character and inner belief to come through difficult times. I look round the dressing room and I’ve not seen anybody who has given in to our circumstances. That’s a real positive. And we are capable of turning it around.”

Comments