Big Sam hails 'biggest win of the season'

The result was all that mattered to Sam Allardyce after Diafra Sakho’s late goal saw off Sunderland

The result was all that mattered to Sam Allardyce after Diafra Sakho’s late goal saw West Ham United edge past Sunderland 1-0 at the Boleyn Ground.

With Sunderland playing their first Barclays Premier League game under new head coach Dick Advocaat, the tea-time kick-off was always likely to be a competitive affair and so it proved until Sakho settled matters with his 12th goal of the season.

The first half was tight, with both teams creating and spurning a limited number of chances – Sakho heading narrowly wide and Kevin Nolan shooting straight at Costel Pantilimon for West Ham; Connor Wickham volleying straight at Adrian and Jermain Defoe lobbing wildly off-target for the Black Cats.

At half-time, Big Sam replaced Matt Jarvis with a second striker in Carlton Cole and the move slowly saw the Hammers increase their attacking threat. Sakho again nodded just past the post before the Senegalese popped up with the winner with just two minutes remaining, finishing clinically after Mark Noble and substitute Nene had battled for possession on the edge of the Sunderland penalty area.

“It was a big game and probably our biggest win of the season,” the manager told West Ham TV. “It settled everybody’s nerves, because you could see the fans have come here so often recently, seen some really good performances and gone away having applauded the lads off the field but disappointed about the result.

“The performance wasn’t as good as it was against Manchester United or Chelsea but I’m sure, like us, all they wanted to see was a victory. When it came as late as it did, it is always sweeter that way.

“Our dominance was proven by one stat in particular and that was 42 balls into the Sunderland box. We created and missed our chances, but finally our leading goal scorer has done what we needed him to do more than ever before and that was put the winner in.”
The performance wasn’t as good as it was against Manchester United of Chelsea but I’m sure, like us, all they wanted to see was a victory
As so often happens in football, West Ham found a way to win, despite arguably not producing the same level of performance as they had in recent draws with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, as well as the home defeat by Chelsea.

“You have to give the team credit for the other side of it because they have got the clean sheet, and had we done that against Man United and Tottenham we’d be sat with another four points. Then we could have got another as Chelsea’s winner was offside.

“We would then be talking about 46 or 47 points instead of 42, but we’ve had to come through that spell without the victories that we deserved. We had to face that we were in a bad run of results and we’ve come through that by beating Sunderland.

“For us, with our run-in and history against teams below us – we’ve only lost to Everton and Crystal Palace this season – it’s hopefully going to be a good one with plenty of points to be picked up. Hopefully the lads will finish the season strongly.”

Again, the manager had his options limited by injuries to key players, with Cheikhou Kouyate dropping into the centre of defence and Sakho starting the game as the lone frontman. At half-time, the manager sent on Cole to support the No15 and the move paid off.

“I wanted to give more support to Sakho and, without Enner Valencia and Andy Carroll being with us because of injuries, Carlton has only just come back from injury so I couldn’t start him – that’s why I played one out and out striker from the start.

“At half-time, the system I chose wasn’t working as well as I’d hoped in terms of creating goal scoring opportunities, so Carlton came on and had no problem doing 45 minutes. It did us good getting Stewart Downing in the hole and it’s paid off for us.

“Our leading goal scorer has got the headlines, and credit also to our defence for restricting them to one shot on target in the second half. Everything was how it should have turned out.”
With two weeks until his team travel to bottom side Leicester City, Big Sam will hope to welcome a number of absent players back into the fold for the trip to the King Power Stadium.

“This result means we can now try to achieve the target we set after Christmas. It’s still there to try to achieve it and if Winston Reid comes back and stays fit, as does everybody else, during the run-in that will be very important for us.

“Winston, James Tomkins, Enner Valencia and Andy Carroll have played a major part in our success this season and we were without them and that is a lot of absences to try and cope with. Against Sunderland, the players went out there and coped with it very well indeed.

“It’s been a tough old period, but hopefully we’ll see more victories as the season draws to a close.

“Hopefully we’ll have Reidy and Enner back after the international break, so it’s probably come at a good time for us with regard to getting some of the injured players back, which would be great.”