Sunday, 14 August 2011

Doncaster Rovers 0 v 1 West Ham United

Sam Allardyce was blowing bubbles of joy as he celebrated his first victory as West Ham boss, but there was a sense of relief at the final whistle after the Hammers survived a late onslaught from the home side. "Doncaster threw everything at us towards the finish but I was well pleased with the resilience of our defence," admitted Allardyce. "We did the good stuff in the first half, and could have scored more, but the result showed we can dig in and win games." With promotion their stated objective after dropping out of the Premier League, West Ham made a false start when they lost to Cardiff on the opening weekend of the Football League season, but Kevin Nolan's strike at the Keepmoat Stadium secured a vital 1-0 victory in South Yorkshire.

The West Ham manager could take a large slice of the credit for the way his team outplayed the home side before the interval. Doncaster might be one of the more unfashionable clubs in the Championship but they play some of the best football in the division - when they are allowed. Yet Allardyce's side ensured Rovers never had a chance to settle into their slick passing style. They hassled and harried, with midfield stars Nolan and Scott Parker rolling up their sleeves to lead the way. Last season's Footballer of the Year played well but was outshone by former Newcastle captain Nolan, who capped a fine performance with the all-important goal.

Just four minutes had gone when Jack Collison swung over a deep and inviting cross from the right and Nolan ghosted in on the stretch to volley the ball past Gary Woods. It was a typical poacher’s effort and his first goal in West Ham United colours since a £3 million summer move from Newcastle and the surprise decision to drop down a division. Another goal, and a fine example of his shooting repertoire, almost followed when he rifled a 25-yard effort against the woodwork. Woods may have got a faint touch to that, but the Doncaster keeper’s hand was firm in the 66th minute to deny Nolan once more from a clever chip. It was a performance that typified why Allardyce was so keen to be reunited with him again. "Kevin has a good mentality and knows what it takes to get out of this division," said the West Ham manager of Nolan, who scored 18 times when leading Newcastle to promotion in 2010. "It has got to be quality with teamwork and team spirit, and he builds that. He talks to players, demands from players and helps me with my job."

At a time when English sport revels in centuries and success, Nolan himself wants West Ham to enjoy a record-breaking season and pass their own 'big Test'. He steered Newcastle to the Championship title in 2010, as they bagged 102 points and got within four points of the league record set by Reading. Now he has challenged his promotion-chasing Hammers to emulate the Toon. "We have got the quality to do that," he said. "We just have to make sure we all believe scrapping out games is just as good a win as playing teams off the park. Everyone knows I did it with Newcastle – we romped it really. But for the opening 18 to 20 matches it wasn’t easy. Teams always put us under a lot of pressure because we were the big scalp. It’s going to be the same at West Ham, and the lads have to get used to that. Sam made no secret of the fact that’s why he bought me, to score goals and lead the team. We only lost four games that year with Newcastle and it was a fantastic season. That’s what we at West Ham have to try to do, try to put pressure on ourselves to beat their record. Hopefully that will be a common thing throughout the season. It was good to get the clean sheet too. Doncaster came close and sometimes you have to ride your luck. Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal do it. Early in the season they don’t play at their best, but make sure they win. Some of the lads are a bit disappointed because they feel they didn’t perform to their maximum. But it’s a team effort in this league. If we can stick together and play like we did, we will be fine and hopefully achieve the plan of being in the Premier League next season."

It could be a League One return for Rovers unless they improve in their current crisis. West Ham controlled much of the game and understandably so. Not only do they have players of Premier League stature, but Doncaster were missing 10 first-choice players, most notably the striking pair of Billy Sharp and James Hayter. Yet they might have snatched a point. From a corner for the visitors, James Coppinger raced clear but, as Robert Green advanced, the winger decided to slide the ball across for support that was not there. He then glanced a header inches past the post in the 76th minute after running on to a splendid cross from roving full-back Mustapha Dumbuya. Green then had to make a further fine save from Simon Gillett 12 minutes from time.

The late rally could not deny West Ham a first away win since February and Allardyce- who became visably more and more agitated in the closing stages- was delighted to see his side hold on. "It was a little uncomfortable, but I liked the resilience of our defence," he added. "It was important to win, not just because of our poor away record, but losing late against Cardiff when we didn’t deserve to lose." Sean O’Driscoll, the Doncaster manager, had few positive thoughts after a second successive league defeat. "We didn't do the things we practice right and maybe showed them too much respect," he said. "We had a lot of injuries but we can't make than an excuse. You can't afford to switch off like that in this division. Too many people think they can play in this division without doing the basics. It doesn’t disappoint me that we played poorly, what does is not doing the things they are told. There are injuries, but they are no excuse for our performance."

Doncaster (4-5-1): G Woods; Dumbuya, Naylor, Friend, Spurr; Coppinger, Gillett (Hird 82), Oster, Bennett (Baxendale 76), Barnes (Keegan 76); Brown.
Subs: Sullivan, Radford.
Booking: Brown.

West Ham (4-5-1): Green; O’Brien, Tomkins, Reid, Ilunga (Stanislas 86); Collison (Sears 72), Parker, Noble, Nolan, Taylor; Piquionne (Cole 62).
Subs: Boffin, Faye.

Referee: S Mathieson (Cheshire).


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