West Ham’s fantastic February continues – four wins out of four, with only one goal conceded. Yesterday they recovered from the shock of conceding an early goal to produce the sort of result and performance that looked well beyond the injury-hit outfit that languished second from bottom at the turn of the year.
But West Ham are no longer recognisable as that team. Seven points clear of the bottom three, they are also a point ahead of last season’s pace, when they finished 10th. Sam Allardyce, their manager, always insisted that his team would improve when his key defenders regained fitness and he has been proved right.
“From where we were it is an outstanding performance by the players and I thank them for their efforts and the quality they are showing, the defensive resilience,” he said. “Confidence is growing and we are pulling away from the danger area that little bit more week by week.”
It helped that Southampton had a collective off day, especially Adam Lallana. So often the inspiration, he was not at his best in front of England assistant manager Ray Lewington, and although he had plenty of the ball, he and his team could do little with it, even after Maya Yoshida had headed Southampton in front after eight minutes from Steve Davis’s free-kick from the right – his first Premier League goal in 38 starts.
The kick had been rather generously awarded for a challenge by James Tomkins on Lallana, perhaps as a peace offering by referee Mark Clattenburg, officiating at a Saints game for the first time since the club had complained that he had suggested that England recognition had gone to Lallana’s head during a game at Everton in December.
But surrendering their spotless defensive record of the previous four games stunned West Ham into a reply. After 20 minutes Kevin Nolan chipped the ball over the defence for Matt Jarvis, looking marginally offside, to roll his first League goal of the season under Artur Boruc. And the Hammers were ahead three minutes later. Carlton Cole thumped a header against the post from Stewart Downing’s corner, and thrashed home the rebound.
Southampton responded with Rickie Lambert’s header against a post, and a run and cross from Luke Shaw, who may get the nod when the England squad is announced on Thursday with Ashley Cole struggling for playing time at Chelsea; but Lallana got his final shot all wrong.
Put through by Guy Demel’s misjudged header, he then pulled a shot wide with only Adrian to beat seconds before Cole nodded down Downing’s cross for Nolan to hook home with an acrobatic overhead kick, his fifth goal in four games, following a dismal holiday period in which he was sent off on New Year’s Day at Fulham.
“He has made sure he repaid everyone at the club for what happened, the lowest point in his career I think,” Allardyce said. “He had a lot of time to reflect on what had happened and having an opportunity to define himself in terms of showing what he could do when he got back.”
Southampton pressed for a reply but Mohamed Diame almost made it 4-1 with a dipping effort against the bar.
“We deserved to get something from the game and were unlucky with the refereeing decisions and that we didn’t score more goals,” Saints manager Mauricio Pochettino said. “But we lacked what they had – effectiveness.”
West Ham Utd (4-5-1): Adrian; Demel, Collins, Tomkins, McCartney; Jarvis (Diame, 57), Noble, Nolan (Reid, 73), Taylor, Downing; C Cole.
Southampton (4-3-3): Boruc; Chambers, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw; S Davis (Ward-Prowse, 78), Cork (Ramirez, 63), Schneiderlin; Lallana, Lambert (Gallagher, 78), Rodriguez.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the match: Nolan (West Ham)
Match rating: 7/10