West Ham United got 2013 off to the perfect start with an assured 2-1 win at home to Norwich City on Tuesday.
A Mark Noble penalty opened the scoring on just three minutes, before Joey O'Brien provided an unlikely source for the second. After almost constant pressure and numerous chances that were passed up by the Hammers, Russell Martin ensured it would be a nervous finale by grabbing one back for the Canaries with a minute to go.
Sam Allardyce's side were good value for their first win in six games, though, after they dominated possession and created the lion's share of clear-cut chances. Ricardo Vaz Te struck a post, Carlton Cole fired over from three yards and only a duo of fine saves from Mark Bunn kept out shots from Jack Collison and Matt Taylor.
"We're probably glad their goal didn't come with a few more minutes to go," Allardyce explained. "It's a shame the score didn't reflect the performance. The win was very important but it should have been about 4-1 or 5-1 based on the amount of chances we created and missed. It was an outstanding performance under the circumstances and an outstanding result.
"It should have been more but we got the three points and that was what we were looking for. We did it with really good football and some good finishing and some really good chances created and we've got that vital win.
"We got a little nervous when they popped that one in at the end. At 1-0 or 2-0, we're bound to throw caution to the wind, which we did for the last five or ten minutes and they got the goal. But it really was a great win for us."
Noble was offered the platform to score his fourth goal of the season after Winston Reid appeared to be held in the area by Ryan Bennett. The decision was hotly contested by the visitors, but Big Sam is confident referee Mark Clattenburg made the right call.
"The referee was in front of me and I could see Reidy being pulled from the dugout area. You need those decisions to go for you at the right time and that gets you off to a good start and the confidence to go and play as well as we did.
"With the box crowded, sometimes that kind of thing can be obscured by the players but the referee had a clear view of it. Sometimes they let it go and sometimes they give it. It was the correct decision. After that it was about control and we controlled the game right from the beginning until the very end."
The result was all the more impressive considering Kevin Nolan and James Collins were added to the already substantial list of absentees through suspension. With Gary O'Neil only fit enough for a late cameo from the bench, Big Sam was forced to call on Collison and Vaz Te from the start as both made their first starts following long-term injury lay-offs. The depleted numbers have led Big Sam and the Board to draw up a list of potential targets for the transfer window, which opened on Tuesday.
"We had Kevin Nolan, James Collins, Andy Carroll, Mo Diame and George McCartney missing so it was a sensational performance when we're down to the bare bones squad-wise.
"We have been trying very hard over the last few weeks to line up in the short term rather than the long term. We will wait and see as January develops whether we get any joy or not but what we can say is that we've got our feelers out."
West Ham have another big home game on Saturday when Manchester United visit for a mouthwatering third-round FA Cup tie. Check out West Ham TV for all the big match build-up.