Sam Allardyce made a strong case for the defence after West Ham United's fourth clean sheet in five games this season helped them to a goalless Barclays Premier League draw at Norwich City on Saturday.

A combination of bravery, organisation and discipline from the Hammers repelled the home side's repeated assaults at goal, leaving Big Sam to look ahead at the club's upcoming fixtures with renewed optimism. Sunderland are the next to see if they can become the first visiting team to register a Boleyn Ground away goal this season when they arrive in east London on Saturday.

"We're satisfied with the point away from home and it's another clean sheet - the basis and the structure to build any successful side on," Allardyce said. "We're going to eventually start scoring goals as we didn't quite find the clinical edge that we had against Fulham.

"Being defensively strong is critical because every time you don't concede a goal you know you've got a point at least. You know for a fact that if you tot up 38 points in a season now, it's likely that you'll be safe as nobody has gone down in the last eight years with that amount."

The post-match interviewers were quick to quiz Allardyce on whether Saturday's match had been the best performance yet from his new man between the sticks, Jussi Jaaskelainen. Big Sam was quick to concur and explained how pleased he was that the Finland international is feeling the benefits of working with goalkeeping coach Martyn 'Marge' Margetson.

"Yes I think it was his best performance as that's the busiest he's been. Even though we lost 3-0 against Swansea City he wasn't very busy. The big man is there to do a job and he did the job superbly for us. There were probably no world-class saves in there but the ones he did make were very good.

"I've got a great goalkeeping coach here called Martyn Margetson, who is also the goalkeeping coach for Wales. I know Jussi's strength was the coaching that Fred Barber used to give him when I was with him at Bolton and I knew that when he got with Marge, he would put him into a good frame of mind and re-kindle all of the old experience that he's got.

"When you're in the mid-30s today you can still be a very good goalkeeper if you want to be. When you look at someone like Brad Friedel, it shows that being in your mid-to-late-thirties isn't a problem any more. It's about using that experience and having that dedication to keeping your body right to play in goal, which Jussi does."

Jaaskelainen may not be the only one to enjoy the benefits of West Ham's current watertight defence though, as the manager feels that assured defending can also benefit the work his strikeforce do further up the pitch. Carlton Cole caused the Canaries' defence problems for the first 57 minutes on Saturday before being replaced by Modibo Maiga, who added his touch and guile to several promising attacks.

"The good thing is that the front players know that one goal is going to win us the game as defensively we're so good. That is critical to the success of the side. The confidence throughout the team grows and the strikers know that if you miss one it's not going to bother us too much if we can continue to defend like we do. They know if they get the next one then it could win us the game. It's been critical for the points total that we've gathered already and hopefully we'll continue for a long period of time.

"We are a team that has just come up and we will have our periods when the opposition will come and be on top of their form. We won't worry too much about that if we keep our mind on the job and of course it promotes good attacking football. Our lads win the ball back and we can keep probing as an attacking side to break down the opposition."

Sunderland

With Andy Carroll still recovering from his hamstring injury, Cole and Maiga both looked keen to impress with some tireless running on a very warm September afternoon in East Anglia. That kind of attitude is exactly what is needed as the competition for places hots-up according to Big Sam.

"Carlton Cole knows all about the Premier League. He's got stiff competition as he's seen a centre forward come in from Liverpool that they paid a lot of money for. He can either think that he's going to shrivel up or roll up his sleeves and fight. When you've got competition it's got to bring the best out you. I know he'll roll his sleeves up as he did against Norwich and that's what we want to see.

"In terms of Andy's recovery, I don't think there's much chance for Sunderland. We would try and hope if we can get him back before the next international break. I think it's a long-shot at the moment but we'll try."

Friday was the first time Allardyce was able to get his whole squad together after international commitments saw his side scatter all over the globe. But after a summer of hard work identifying and securing a host of new talent for his squad, the manager was able to finally reflect on a job well done.

"We've got a group of players that are getting to know each other day by day. There are a lot of new faces that have come to the club again. I know all about our boys from last season and I hope the new faces will make us better and stronger as we go on."

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