Nolan strike secures opening day win for West Ham against Aston Villa
West Ham United 1-0 Aston Villa
West Ham marked their return to the Premiership with a deserved 1-0 win over Aston Villa at Upton Park yesterday.
Captain Kevin Nolan led by example as he scored the only goal of the game just before half-time to condemn Aston Villa to defeat in new manager Paul Lambert’s first game in charge.
For the Hammers, the win represented the ideal start to the new season and could have been more comprehensive were they more clinical in front of goal.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce fielded a side featuring several acquisitions from the summer including goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, defenders James Collins and George McCartney, and midfielder Mohamed Diame.
The new signings and the rest of the home side started in subdued fashion, though, with Villa moving the ball around well in the opening minutes.
An early Brett Holman strike flew past Jaaskelainen’s post before Collins, who performed magnificently throughout, was forced to make a double block from Karim El Ahmadi and Stephen Ireland.
The Irons began to make inroads into the game mid-way through the first-half as Carlton Cole began to get the better of Villa’s new signing Ron Vlaar.
Centre-back Vlaar brought Cole down just outside the box and Nolan shot just wide from the resulting free kick.
The Hammers did find the breakthrough from a set-piece just minutes later as Mark Noble floated in a free-kick which Ricardo Vaz Te squared back to Nolan, who finished from close range.
The goal was originally ruled out for offside but referee Mike Dean awarded the goal after correctly deeming that Villa’s Ciaran Clark had got the flick on and not West Ham’s Collins.
West Ham began to dominate proceedings after the break and were incensed that they were not given a penalty in the second half after Cole was shoved by Vlaar in the box.
Cole nearly doubled the lead in the 65th minute when he got on the end of a Matthew Taylor cross but the former Chelsea striker could only head wide when well-placed.
Vlaar then tried his luck from 35 yards but it was West Ham who ended in the ascendancy as Modibo Maiga broke through the defence and rounded the keeper only to see Nathan Baker clear his effort off the line.
Allardyce was pleased with his side’s performance and singled out Collins for particular praise. He told BBC Sport: “It ended up as a very good day as we won 1-0 and kept a clean sheet. James Collins was back and solid in defence which gave us a platform to win the game and there were lots of good performances.”
West Ham will be hoping to continue their winning start to the season when they travel to Swansea next Saturday.
Laurence Taylor, football correspondent