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Mar 30, 2013

Carroll-inspired Hammers buck trend

It was an afternoon at Upton Park that upturned a few recent trends and expectations.

Most importantly and impressively, West Ham United never played like a team under any kind of pressure of relegation. Andy Carroll, meanwhile, hardly finished like a forward who had been struggling for goals.

• Evans: Errors cost Albion
• Thorne: Carroll leads the charge

In both cases, it was quite the opposite with the two arguably influencing each other. Carroll's exquisite strikes will now surely go a long way to securing safety for a West Ham team who generally played very well from back to front.

Moreover, this wasn't quite the nothing game others might have expected from two teams on the opposite end of the mid-table spectrum - West Brom just behind the continental challengers, West Ham just in front of the relegation candidates. By contrast, this was filled with varying degrees of finesse and farce. The home side provided the former, Youssef Mulumbu the latter with his utterly ludicrous red card.

To a certain degree, frustration was understandable. Because, other than the opening few minutes, West Ham completely bossed West Brom with a generally superb display.

Indeed, Steve Clarke later lamented the two minutes in which the game swung.

Having just seen Jussi Jaaskelainen hold on to a deflected Romelu Lukaku free-kick that could so easily have put the visitors into the lead, the manager had about as much say on West Ham's opener as Jonas Olsson. The central defender's attention was rendered completely irrelevant as Carroll thundered in a header with extreme prejudice. The power reflected the force and energy West Ham were playing with general.

Throughout the team, the Hammers players seemed to recover the form they illustrated earlier in the season. In defence, James Collins met almost everything. In midfield, Ricardo Vaz Te and Gary O'Neil combined brilliantly for the latter to curl in West Ham's beautiful second goal. Even thereafter, the immense Mohamed Diame gave a masterclass in midfield movement and transitional play with the manner in which he constantly used one elegant touch to ease the pressure on his defence while creating an attack.

The one exception to such resurgence is Carroll. He has finally added the goals to his game that were missing from those first few months. It was something that Allardyce noted with glee - particularly praising Carroll's second and West Ham's third - and concurred that such confidence brought what was the striker's best performance of the season.

"I don't think you'll see a better volley," the Upton Park boss said. "Technique, over the shoulder on his weaker foot into the bottom corner… You'd have to say because he's put two goals on the end of a good performance. He's put good performances in for us before but he's shown what he's all about today with ability outside the box but also ability in the box which we've been waiting patiently for.

"He's in a good frame of mind now and, finally, after a long wait, his match fitness is why we're seeing the goals and performance we're seeing. He's enjoying himself, which is more important than anything else. I hope this kicks on now in the next eight games."

As to whether Carroll will remain at the club after that point, Allardyce admitted it is something he wants to happen but that there is still an awful lot to organise.

"It's always a possibility but, like I said, when we get down to budgeting and so forth, and seeing what can be done, you have to look. There's a lot of things that need to be done for now and then."

Steve Clarke similarly put off any talk about Mulumbu's red card. Despite the fact that West Brom had just been awarded a fortuitous penalty which Graham Dorrans plundered, the side's agitation clearly hadn't been eased. With O'Neil snapping at Mulumbu's ankles, the midfielder turned, picked up the ball and drop-kicked it into the West Ham player's backside. It was, in short, comical. Not that Clarke was laughing.

"I just said, to the group in general, you have to control your frustration. It was a frustrating afternoon for us. The red card doesn't affect today's game but it affects the next few. The time to have a chat is probably tomorrow morning. I would guess it's frustration."

Beyond substitute George McCartney's unfortunate injury, though, it was only happiness for West Ham.

"The overall performance and quality of the goals, it was a great day for us," Allardyce said. "This time we played a fantastic game, scored three fantastic goals and got a thoroughly deserved win."

Clarke wasn't going to upset the mood by disagreeing.

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