West Ham increase their scrap value after Rovers win
Hammers boss Sam Allardyce is looking to see a more steely West Ham side on their travels this season
�When Sam Allardyce arrived at Upton Park one of the biggest problems he had to overcome was West Ham’s appalling away record.
The league victories at Fulham and Blackpool last season made it three victories in two seasons for the Upton Park club and their woeful tally of just 13 points on their travels last season was one of the main reasons they went down.
Winning ugly and scrapping for every point was something that seemed alien to Avram Grant and his beleaguered team last season and it is Allardyce’s job to restore that steely determination into the team.
They passed their first test on Saturday at Doncaster Rovers. The 1-0 win was by no means pretty and at times they had they had to soak up the pressure, but resilience saw them through and it delighted the West Ham boss.
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“We should have been a bit more comfortable in terms of goals scored and although it got a little bit uncomfortable, I liked the resilience of the players during that period,” said Allardyce after the match.
“The good thing for me was that they showed a lot of mental strength in terms of defensive organisation which was very important when you’re only 1-0 ahead.”
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West Ham may have been thankful that Doncaster were missing both their front line strikers – Billy Sharp and James Hayter both suffering injuries at Brighton last week – but the Hammers can only beat what is in front of them and the defence certainly restricted Rovers to a handful of half chances.
“Even though Doncaster had a huge possession phase in our half towards the end, Robert Green still only had to make one save and we defended extremely well during that period,” said the boss.
“It showed me that we know how to hold on, dig in and win a game of football and that didn’t happen as often as it should’ve done last season.”
That’s an understatement. West Ham were awful away last season with perhaps only the games at Tottenham and West Brom where they actually showed the fight that was needed to give themselves a chance of staying up.
The epitome of this new fighting spirit is new captain Kevin Nolan. His goal gave West Ham a fifth minute lead and while he could also have had a couple more, it was his fighting spirit in midfield that was the catalyst for this battling victory.
“I’m sure as we go through the season we will be able to stamp our authority on the ball a bit more, but it is a new thing for West Ham being down here and we’ve got to get used to scrapping it out,” said the Hammers captain after his match-winning display at the Keepmoat Stadium.
“Once we scrap a few out, hopefully we will be able to start getting the ball down and playing it.”
Nolan had his chances, but he also had to play his part when Rovers attacked them, particularly in the final 20 minutes.
“They came back at us and went close with a header that went just past the post, but sometimes you’ve got to ride your luck a bit,” said Nolan. “If you look at the Premier League, Man United do it, Chelsea do it, Arsenal do it. Early on in the season they make sure they are winning games, but they probably don’t play the best football.”
Man fans were worried that the Premier League players in the West Ham squad would think themselves above a trip to Doncaster, but with players like Nolan in their ranks, that was never likely to happen.
“We’ve got to earn the right to play football,” said Nolan. “We can’t just come to grounds and expect sides to lay down and let us play and that is something we are getting used to as a club and as a team.”
Nolan carries out the scrapping on the pitch, but it seems that Allardyce is the brains behind it. They will face tougher tests on the road this year, but he has started perfectly.
“I hope that a first away win in our first away match will give us confidence,” said the manager. “We had three and a half thousand dedicated away fans here, who were singing and creating an atmosphere that the players love to feel.
“That’s what drives and gets the best out of players and makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.”
Let’s hope those hairs will be standing up many more times this season.