Big Sam is back

The West Ham boss has endured a miserable run but Matt Stanger saw positive signs at Cardiff.

Last Updated: 11/01/14 at 19:10

As West Ham fans boarded the away coaches for the long journey to Cardiff in the early hours of Saturday morning, they could have been forgiven for fearing the worst. Two heavy cup defeats in the space of a week had compounded the bleak mood around the club with the team floundering in 19th in the league and Sam Allardyce's future hanging in the balance. A third loss on the spin would surely have sealed the manager's fate.

But there is a reason Allardyce has been spared the sack despite the rest of the bottom five all removing their managers in the first half of the season. Were he available when West Ham's four rivals opted for change, he would surely have led the list of potential replacements given his renowned ability to win a relegation battle. Allardyce may have got West Ham into this mess, but he is also the best man to get them out of it.

That was evident in the 2-0 win on Saturday as Cardiff's hopes for an immediate recovery under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were quickly extinguished. There was none of the 'Allardici' nonsense about the Hammers' starting line-up on this occasion as a four-man defence was protected by a five-man midfield, with Carlton Cole selected as a lone target-man in attack. It was back to basics, backs to the wall and back to the sort of performance required to avoid the drop.

Cardiff had seven shots on target against West Ham but rarely tested Adrian

Never a man who is easy to love, Big Sam's biggest problem this season has been an emotional detachment from his role. Following Andre Villas-Boas' sacking at Spurs, Allardyce spoke of his reluctance to form a bond with the Hammers after his treatment by Newcastle and Blackburn, but the troubles of the past seven days have rekindled the fire in his belly. "You either come out fighting or you sink and die," he said after the defeat to Manchester City. "I come out fighting as a manager and my staff and players are the same."

The rallying cry certainly worked as the Hammers exhibited a battling spirit that has been missing in recent weeks and showed heartening resolve to resist Cardiff pressure in the second half. After a statuesque Allardyce barely blinked when Cole put the Hammers ahead before the break, co-commentator Trevor Francis said: "I think there would have been greater emotion if that goal had been scored in the 91st minute." It was a prophetic statement, as Mark Noble's injury-time strike left Allardyce jumping for joy on the touchline.

Andy Carroll's role in Mark Noble's late goal showed what an attacking outlet he can be for West Ham

There was much for the manager to celebrate, not least Andy Carroll's return from injury to make his first appearance of the season as a second-half substitute. In truth, it was a difficult cameo for the striker, but his involvement in Noble's goal underlined what the Hammers have been missing. Suddenly Matt Jarvis and Stewart Downing have a better option to aim at from the flanks, while Kevin Nolan, if he can be trusted to keep his cool, can return to sniffing out the knock-downs that enabled him to reach double figures in top-flight goals last season.

Allardyce will also have been encouraged to see his team return to the top of the Premier League clean sheets table with their ninth of the season and first in eight matches, but his defensive concerns were equally exacerbated by an injury to Guy Demel and James Tomkins' red card. With Winston Reid still on the sidelines with an ankle injury, the manager could be forced to dip into the transfer market again, this time hoping to capture more quality than the limited Roger Johnson.

If reports are to be believed, David Gold and David Sullivan will back Allardyce with funds in January to plug the gaps in his fragile squad, but the manager needed a performance to prove he is worthy of their faith. Not only was that achieved on the pitch at Cardiff, but Allardyce's renewed ebullience is certain to help him curry favour. This was the Big Sam of old, and it was exactly what the Hammers needed to ease their fears after a nightmare week.

Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.

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S

terling needs to be told though that upon entering the Arsenal squad he will re-enact the final scene from Highlander where he will be thrown around a warehouse by cartoon dragons and then be a mere mortal that will only ever spend three to four weeks a season playing football and the rest on the physio's bed. There can be only one.....player available at The Emirates.

rodger's gusset
Arsenal interest in Sterling

T

he game changed in our favour when Carrick came on. We were able to play further up the pitch due to having a player who can give and go with the ball and keep possession. Yet barkley made some runs and Townsend scored a good goal but carrick's inclusion and chiellini's withdrawal made the biggest difference to the flow of the game

ricky villa
Hodgson: Barkley was brilliant

N

o, you've not silenced anyone Andros, i'm afraid. We know you can score a great goal, and it's really handy to have your direct running and willingness to shoot on the bench. But until you can do the other things expected of a winger (beat the man, put a decent cross in, stay wide etc) then you can't expect more than a regular cameo. Wonderful goal though, what a hit! No wonder Buffon wanted the shirt.

badwolf
Townsend: I've silenced critics

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