The Nolan goal said it all. It was pure class, a beautiful strike, caught perfectly on the volley and drilled exocet like into the bottom corner of the net, beyond the despairing outstretched hand of former Labour Minister for Welfare Reform Frank Fielding. But what had Nolan done before that divine intervention? Absolutely nowt. Within 30 seconds of the start of the game, he received the ball in midfield and passed it perfectly into touch - and that summed up his performance until the goal!
What did we offer first half? For ten minutes we looked lively, if uninspired, and then we lost interest. A game to be won? Nah. Can't be arsed. It's gone five o'clock for Christ's sake, we should be having a shower by now and going for a night out on the town.
We were every bit as bad in that first half as against Coventry; until O'Brien whipped in our only decent cross of the half and Cole somehow connected in a veritable scrum of players, directing the ball goal wards and into the net via a forlorn effort to clear it off the line.
Baldock, to be fair, ran the left hand channel well until he pulled up with a hamstring injury, but who else looked interested? Collison forced a good save from Fielding and after the ball bobbled loose, Faubert thought, "What iz thees? If I move, I may score a goal." Sadly, by the time he had thrown aside his Gauloise and got his fat arse into gear, the chance was gone.
But those moments apart, what was there? Baldock stupidly didn't go down for a penalty when clearly fouled in the box. Nolan broke down the left and crossed into the arms of Fielding, with Faubert again reacting with all the urgency of a sloth on downers. And Baldock played in Nolan, only for the Newcastle man to selfishly shoot rather than trying to cross to the on jogging Faubert. Oh and Faubert controlled the ball with his arm before blasting over!
And then Derby scored. God knows how many West Ham players were drawn to the ball just inside the Derby half. Faubert was there. So was Collison, even though the ball was out on our right and he was playing on our left. So was O'Brien. And Cole. And Faye, belatedly, decided to join in for good measure. And for all I know, Noble and Nolan may well have been trying to join in the party! Which meant that once Derby won the ball, we were all over the bloody shop. Mind you, the situation was still redeemable because Derby only had Priskin in our half, but Tomkins elected to ball watch rather than track the on loan Ipswich reject and McCartney arrived all too late. Priskin took the chance beautifully to be fair, but the defending was truly inept!
And then somebody dropped something into our tea and we came out a different team second half.
Why? Why can't this team perform for 90 minutes? Isn't Allardyce the guru of fitness? Do the team really have to sit on their arses for the first 45 minutes in order to see out a game? Why the hell can't we sustain urgency through the first half of a game?
Second half we passed and moved and controlled the game. Nolan's goal was wonderful. Piquionne woke up and won a dubious penalty, which Noble buried with aplomb. Piquionne should have scored with two headers. And Derby hardly touched the ball. Our domination in the second 45 was absolute, so complete that Allardyce could have taken off Green and sent on an extra striker. Dear God, at one point the crowd started crying "Ole!"" as we strung together a whole series of passes rather than hoofing the ball long as first, second, third and last resort! It wasn't exactly Barcelona, but at least it wasn't the crude cross between Stoke and Bolton that we had been forced to endure for the first 43 minutes!
So, another win, another crucial three points and another mediocre performance. Derby arrived with the worst current form in the division and on the back of three consecutive defeats; and we made them look decent first half. If we win at Middlesborough on Tuesday, we will be well on course for promotion, but the quality of football remains truly, truly dire.
Player ratings: Green 7 (He looks so much better under crosses); O'Brien 6, Tomkins 4 (at fault for the goal and drawn out of position on two other occasions), Faye 6 (not great for the goal but otherwise unfussily effective), McCartney 6 (crossing dreadful); Faubert 6 (played in Piquionne for the penalty and one excellent corner that Piquionne should have scored from but dozy all game. He has all the anticipation of a corpse!) Noble 8 (He ran the midfield single handedly), Nolan 5 (Great goal but hopeless in the first 45), Collison 6 (one lovely shot but uninspiring for most of game), Cole 7 (best player on the pitch in the second half until he was withdrawn) Baldock 7 (Lively whilst on). Subs: Piquionne 5 (Won the penalty but hopeless in the first half and should have done better with two headers in the second half) Carew 6 (looked far more interested than at Coventry) Taylor 6 (a promising cameo)