Sam targets Palace win

Sam Allardyce says West Ham United are still heading in the right direction
Sam Allardyce says West Ham United are still heading in the right direction, despite the frustration of recent results.

The Hammers have nodded in a Barclays Premier League-leading 15 headed goals this season, but have picked up just one victory in their last nine league matches.

However, the most-recent three have seen Big Sam’s men dominate Manchester United, defy Southampton with ten men and come within seconds of winning at Tottenham Hotspur.

With Crystal Palace to visit the Boleyn Ground on Saturday lunchtime, the manager shares the fans’ optimism that his team can return to winning ways against Alan Pardew’s improving, resolute Eagles – as long as they defend properly until the final whistle.

“I watched the Palace versus Arsenal game and they played like we did on 28 December, when we out-passed them and we still lost,” he warned.

“Arsenal played a very different, counter-attacking game unlike they normally do, so Palace make it very difficult for you, like West Brom, even when you’re at home.

“The players have to be patient and really clever and, in transition, we need to remember how well we need to defend. That’s been our only Achilles heel recently – the reason we haven’t picked up seven points from our last three games is that we haven’t got enough clean sheets.

“If we had ten clean sheets instead of six, we’d be sitting in the top six or better now. In the last three games, we’ve got to the last few seconds and had four points taken away from us and we must make sure we put that right against Palace.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re in the lead at the end of the game and manage that better. We’ve got to take whatever comes our way and make sure, come the end, we’re not kicking ourselves and have three precious points in the bag.”
Cheikh has made a major impact since he came back, as he made a major impact when he joined us, and I hope he continues to play and score goals
Big Sam has hailed the return to form and fitness of a trio of summer signings – Senegal pair Diafra Sakho and Cheikhou Kouyate and Ecuador striker Enner Valencia.

Sakho suffered two occurrences of a back injury before and after Christmas, while Kouyate returned hurt from the Africa Nations Cup and Valencia was feeling the effects of more than 12 months of non-stop football.

Now, though, the three are somewhere near their best again and the manager says West Ham will reap the rewards.

“I think, like Enner Valencia and Sakho, it’s a surprise how well they’ve done in their first season,” the manager revealed.

“With Cheikh, fatigue kicked in over the Christmas period and with him going to the African Nations Cup, but it looks like the three of them are getting over that period when they were feeling sorry for themselves.

“They hadn’t experienced that feeling of ‘Oh, not another game!’ before and, as a manager, you take all these things into consideration. However, with the squad the way it was at the time, we had to play those players and hope they play through it. I think those three have started to play through it and that’s really exciting, actually, ahead of the last 12 games of the season.

“Cheikh has made a major impact since he came back, as he made a major impact when he joined us, and I hope he continues to play and score goals. He had no goal record from Anderlecht, so it’s nice to see he has popped up, particularly with his headers.”

So, finally, what is the secret of West Ham using their heads to such good effect?

“Nobody talks about the art of heading, not enough anyway,” lamented Big Sam. “Nobody talks about what a great skill it is and what a great tool it is to have in your locker, to be able to head the ball with accuracy, particularly to score goals.

“That’s the beauty of Jenkinson and Cresswell, the quality they and Stewart Downing put into the box. When that continues, people get used to the fact that when we get in wide positions, these balls will come in and players take a chance and get in the areas and score the goals they are scoring and long may that continue!”