Houghton happy with Hammers' progress

Former West Ham United and Aston Villa midfielder Ray Houghton was at the Britannia Stadium last Saturday, to run the rule over Big Sam's high-flying Hammers ahead of Saturday's clash with Paul Lambert's Villains.

"West Ham have made a brilliant start to the season and I'm very pleased for them," smiles the 73-times capped Republic of Ireland star, who made one substitute appearance for the club, at Arsenal, back in May 1982. "Sam Allardyce got pilloried in the media during the summer so it's really good to see that he's turned it around now.

"Sam's side had done so well in their previous game against Manchester City and I went up to Stoke City thinking: 'Show me what you've got'.

"To be honest, I was slightly disappointed with them in the first half but I do think that they would have been a different team if Diafra Sakho had been fit.

"Overall, West Ham might not have played as well as they did against Manchester City but they worked really hard and, most importantly, they didn't give in.

"And you have to give them an awful lot of credit for coming back from 2-0 down to snatch a point. Stewart Downing simply came alive in the second half, while Enner Valencia's header to get them back into the game was top, top quality.

"Having taken nearly 3,000 fans to the Britannia Stadium, they did it for the crowd," insists the 52-year-old Houghton, who went on to make 728 league and cup appearances for Fulham, Oxford United, Liverpool, Villa, Crystal Palace, Reading and Stevenage after leaving the Boleyn Ground in summer 1982. "Those supporters pay good money to follow their team and they love to see them have a go.

"West Ham certainly did that at Stoke and so long as their fans see that attitude, then they'll be very happy, indeed.

"After all, they just want their side play some decent football and win a few games. That's not too much to ask is it?"

Looking ahead to the Hammers' game against Aston Villa, Houghton said: "West Ham are playing some fantastic football at the moment. The new players have come in and settled in extremely well. Sam's got a lot of attacking options, a lot more than he had last season.

"They're going well and coming up against an Aston Villa that are struggling at the moment. Despite starting well they've had a very tough run of fixtures so they're under a lot of pressure coming into this game."

Houghton is particularly looking forward to watching Stewart Downing continue his good run of form. The 30-year-old midfielder has been recalled by England manager Roy Hodgspn following his impressive performances this season. 

"He's done fantastically well. He's predominantly been a winger for most of his career, but he's switched to a more central role and done superbly there. Playing in the central role, he's got a lot more freedom because people find it hard to pick him up. He's got great vision and weight of pass. Hopefully now he'll add more goals to his game because his all-round ability is there for everyone to see."