The veteran attacking midfielder's close-range effort five minutes before half-time sealed victory for Sam Allardyce's men on their return to the Premier LeagueIt was a happy return to the Premier League for West Ham and Sam Allardyce as Kevin Nolan's close-range effort secured a 1-0 victory over Aston Villa.
Allardyce and his side will make no apologies for their means of securing Premier League survival this season as free-kicks and set pieces look to be the focal point of attacks at Upton Park. It was a dead-ball situation which helped provide the only goal of the game as Villa's reliance on an offside decision which was never awarded was punished by Ricardo Vaz Te, who pulled a pass from the byline for Nolan to sweep home five minutes before half-time.
Despite the defeat, Paul Lambert will take pride in his side's opening to the game as his new recruits seamlessly interlinked in midfield to dominate possession. A cause for concern for the Aston Villa manager will undoubtedly be his team's inability to fashion clear-cut chances for Darren Bent, along with the manner of their conservative second-half showing which failed to fully test the rigours of West Ham's back line.
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Villa continued their dominance in possession and looked transformed from the languid unit which limped to an uninspiring 16th-placed finish in the league last year under Alex McLeish. Karim El Ahmadi was tidy in possession in central midfield alongside Fabian Delph, who mirrored the Morocco international superbly, while Stephen Ireland showed a neatness and vision on the ball which has seemed to desert him since his days at Manchester City.
West Ham were a contrast to their opponents. Aside from Mohamed Diame, who offered composure on the ball in central midfield, the hosts showed little intricacy in attack, the extent of which reduced Carlton Cole to fruitlessly chasing a series of aimless long punts into the final third.
But as a set-piece brought West Ham their best chance of the game after 36 minutes as Kevin Nolan's free-kick whistled low past Shay Given's goal, it was a dead-ball situation which provided the hosts with the lead four minutes later.
A Mark Noble free-kick was swept into the box and as James Collins flicked the ball on, the Villa defence stood on ceremony for an offside decision which never came. Ricardo Vaz Te collected the ball on the byline and pulled a pass back to Nolan who calmly slotted past Given.
West Ham started brightly after half-time and saw a penalty shout turned down after Cole raced onto Guy Demel's superb threaded pass on the right flank and was hauled down by Ron Vlaar.
The hosts continued their positive opening to the second half and were able to quash the spells of possession which made Aston Villa a force before the interval. Both Delph and El Ahmadi struggled to replicate their interplay, while Darren Bent was starved of service in attack as he played on the shoulder of Winston Reid.
Villa struggled to replicate the dominance they displayed in the first half, while West Ham continued to probe. Vaz Te offered a glimpse of his talents with a dazzling dribble on his side's right flank which left Nathan Baker in a spin.
West Ham had the chance put the tie beyond doubt 12 minutes from the end as Cole fired his header wide of Given's post from Matthew Taylor's free-kick, while the man who came on to replace the striker for his home debut, Modibo Maiga, saw his effort cleared off the line in injury time.