Unsung transfers get results

9 December ~ This part of the year was supposed to be when the wheels came off West Ham United’s season. A run of six games featuring the top four teams, as well as tricky-looking fixtures against Stoke City and Newcastle United, threatened to undermine a promising start to the campaign. An unexpected return of eight points from a possible 18 means West Ham go into today’s match against Liverpool hopeful of a good result, but with no pressure to achieve one. The debate about whether Sam Allardyce’s tactics amount to anything more than “hoofball” rumbles on and risks becoming as tedious as the Olympic Stadium saga.

“Pragmatic football” may sound like a euphemism for long ball, but few West Ham fans are complaining about the impact of a versatile style of play that can be tailored according to the opposition. The three goals that defeated Chelsea last weekend had very little to do with route-one football.

There is little argument to be had about Allardyce’s ability to spot good players and to get the best out of them. Few Premier League teams would fight over the signatures of the likes of George McCartney and Joey O’Brien, yet these unsung heroes form part of a defence that has conceded fewer league goals than both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.

The signings of the summer were Mohamed Diame and Jussi Jaaskelainen, both free transfers. Diame’s tireless running, tackling and ability to turn defence into attack quickly have been pivotal. Jaaskelainen’s saves have helped prevent many a victory from turning into a draw. It seems a long time now since West Ham fans were fretting over the departures of Scott Parker and Robert Green.

On the other side of the spectrum are Andy Carroll and Matt Jarvis of whom so much was expected. The club’s record signing, Jarvis has so far been largely anonymous, while Carroll’s contribution of a solitary goal betrays his unfulfilled potential. His work-rate may be faultless, but when supporters find themselves praising the defensive headers rather than the headed goals of an £80k-a-week striker, something must be amiss. The two issues may not be unrelated. There is often a disconnect between the midfield and the lone striker, which all too often sees Carroll winning headers with no team-mate within 20 yards of him.

Carroll’s injury has given Carlton Cole a chance to prove himself once more. If the Chelsea match is anything to go by, Cole is going to grab that opportunity with both hands. If the past two years are anything to go by, however, it may prove a false dawn. Still, if Kevin Nolan continues to score at a ratio that most strikers would be proud of, West Ham need not worry too much about a lack of goals.

Victory against Liverpool would see West Ham hit 25 points, just eight fewer than the total amassed at the end of their previous Premier League campaign. The difference between life under Avram Grant and life under Allardyce could not be more stark. Rumour has it that Chelsea were courting Grant earlier this week. West London may be having its share of managerial headaches, but in east London there are no complaints about this regime. Neil Fairchild

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