West Ham begin with a bang thanks to controversial Nolan strike
West Ham 1 Aston Villa 0
West Ham’s return to the Premier League proved a joyous one as they grabbed all three points in the sweltering heat of Upton Park against Aston Villa.
And it was skipper Kevin Nolan who proved to be the difference between the two sides. The Hammers captain was a huge doubt for this game having missed three weeks of pre-season with a foot injury.
But he swooped five minutes before half time to help West Ham to a precious early victory.
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The goal was not without its controversy though. As the ball was played through to Ricardo Vaz Te in the area, the linesman raised his flag for offside. However, Vaz Te pulled the ball back for Nolan to hit the ball into the net from close range.
Villa protests were waved away after referee Mike Dean had conferred with his linesman and it seemed that was the bit of luck that the Hammers needed.
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It had been a cagey first half with West Ham giving debuts to Jussi Jaaskelainen, Mohammed Diame as well as the return of James Collins from Villa.
Nolan shot inches wide from a free kick in the first half, but this was more a battle in midfield and Villa had mastered it for the opening 20 minutes, until West Ham had forced their way back into the match.
The second half was livelier. Stephen Ireland forced a fine low save from Jaaskelainen on 47 minutes and after Carlton Cole had a penalty shout turned down following a shove from Ron Vlaar, Diame had an effort which flew over the bar.
Charles N’Zogbia came close with a long-ranger which was deflected inches over and from the resulting corner, Vlaar headed inches over.
Nolan went close to a second on 68 minutes when Vaz Te broke down the right and squared it for him, only for Shay Given to make a superb save, but as the game reached its last quarter the heat was beginning to tell on both teams.
Vlaar forced another good save from Jaaskelainen, but it was West Ham who finished the stronger as first Cole should have done better than head Matty Taylor’s header wide, before in injury time they had the best chance of all.
Substitute Modibo Maiga stormed clear on the break away from his marker, before rounding the keeper, but his shot at goal was blocked by Matthew Lowton.
West Ham boss Sam Allardyce was full of praise for referee Mike Dean after the decision that won the team the game.
“I have to say we had a very good decision by Mike Dean on the goal becaused when you look at it the ball clearly came off a Villa player’s head,” said the manager who felt his side deserved the win.
“I thought we might have won by a goal more based on chances created,” he said. “When Maiga went through I thought he was going to finish it off.”
West Ham: Jaaskelainen, Demel, McCartney (O’Brien 71), Reid, Collins, Nolan (Tomkins 73), Noble, Diame, Taylor, Vaz Te, Cole (Maiga 81).
Unused subs: Henderson, Diarra, O’Neil, Maynard.