"We're going for first, we want to go up as Champions", so spake Captain Kevin Van Nolan after a huge, huge, huge victory. Once again, apart from two flashes of brilliance, it was a victory based on organisation and endeavour, but that's what Allardyce has brought to the table - it aint pretty, but it is pretty effective.
Man of the Match? It has to be the very model of an Allardyce player, Faye. He was huge at the back, not just the brick wall you might expect, but a highly mobile brick wall. Twice he was exposed, one on one with a Cardiff forward, and twice his leg telescoped out to win the ball, belying his bulk and years. He aint Bobby Moore, but he is playing as well as any West Ham defender I have seen since the great man - and that includes Alvin Martin, Bonds, Collins, Tomkins, Gale, Bilic, Upson and co. He is big. He is hard. He is unflappable. He reads the game. He is strong in the air. And he can tackle. And he played the best pass of the game into the bargain! Not bad for a free transfer!
Mind you, he was superbly screened by the organisation of the midfield in front of him. There was no designated holding midfielder so the team did the job as a unit. Only twice all game did we look stretched as Cardiff broke, and on one of those occasions Maynard chased back and got in a brilliant tackle. We were tight, we were professional, and we thoroughly deserved our victory.
That said, we could have blown it. Whittingham's free kick against the post was superb but Nolan should never have given him the chance with a silly and unnecessary push. And at the death, Green pulled off a brilliant save to stop Cardiff scoring. It remains a slight worry that even when so professional, two slips of concentration / momentary losses of discipline might have cost us victory. There was also Faye's clearance off the line after McCartney's weak header back which was never going to reach Green.
But at the other end we had our chances too. Maynard missed a sitter after being played in by a sloppy headed back pass, and Vaz Te should have done so much better after Faye's lovely 40 yard pass. Maynard missed two other good chances, one in each half, and Vaz Te twice missed the target in goal scoring positions. Add in Collison's volley over the bar, and this could have been another four goal away performance had the team been wearing shooting boots. Another nagging worry perhaps.
Vaz Te was poor in truth and neither Lansbury nor Collison contributed to the required level when we had the ball. Noble was everywhere, always making it easy for team mates by making himself available, but his passing was not up to recent standards.
But no matter. Nolan's finish to give us the lead was out of the top drawer, equalling for me his drilled volley finish against Derby. The technique, opening his body and placing the ball into the far corner, was Van Persie like, and there's no bigger compliment than that at the moment!
And as for Lionel McCartney's goal, well his run, cross, and right footed finish were...well mesmerising. Never again will he be called Linda on this blog, he's Lionel until his retiring day for me!
This was a huge win achieved under huge pressure. Southampton and Reading fans would have settled down expecting us to crumble, but as Nolan confirmed at the end of the game, we are in this Championship to win it! And if we keep playing like this, we could well do it!
Player Ratings: Green 7 (Was that free kick covered though? Seemed to leave too much of a target again), O'Brien 6, Faye 9, Tomkins 7, McCartney 7, Lansbury 6, Noble 7, Collison 6, Nolan 8, Vaz Te 4, Maynard 5 Subs: Cole 5, O'Neil 5