West Ham attacking midfielder Kevin Nolan put together his best performance of the Premier League campaign to help lead the Hammers past Swansea. The strong showing was highlighted by a first half that saw him find the net twice.
Nolan reached a double-digit goal total in each of the past four seasons split between West Ham and Newcastle. He entered the weekend clash with just two goals in 19 appearances, however, which is a major reason for the club's lackluster attacking output.
Swansea were actually controlling the pace of play early in the match, linking together well and limiting West Ham's time on the ball.
The Hammers were able to turn the tide just inside the half-hour mark, though. Andy Carroll located Nolan and delivered a perfect pass. The midfielder made no mistake, sliding the shot past Swans goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel and just inside the post to make it 1-0.
A link up between Carroll and Nolan comes as no surprise. OptaJoe points out six of the English striker's last 11 assists in Premier League play end with Nolan as the goalscorer:
6 - Six of Andy Carroll's last 11 Premier League assists have been for Kevin Nolan goals. Chums.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 1, 2014
This connection wasn't as pure as some of the others, but the long-time Bolton star controlled the bouncing ball extremely well with one touch and then hit a perfect strike. Lackadaisical defending from Swansea certainly helped, as well.
The Swans had several opportunities to net an equalizer in the final 15 minutes of the opening half. Jonjo Shelvey probably had the best of the bunch as he worked his way into a scoring position, but he just missed the target.
How would you rate Nolan's performance (1-10 scale)?
With Swansea struggling to find that final touch, Nolan and Co. capitalized again shortly before the half-time whistle.
West Ham earned a corner in stoppage time, which was sent in to the far post by Stewart Downing. Carroll was able to get open with a nice run, but since his momentum was carrying him away from goal, he made the smart decision to send it back across the box rather than try to go for goal.
The plan worked out to perfection as Nolan was wide open inside the six-yard box as Shelvey dropped back to guard the line. He didn't get much power on the header, but it took a bounce and found the right side of the net once again.
Squawka Football notes it was his second Premier League brace for the club:
Kevin Nolan nets his second Premier League brace for West Ham to double their lead over the Swans. pic.twitter.com/0aKnOA5b8J— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 1, 2014
Again, poor defending by Swansea played a role, but the perfect placement by Nolan earned him the goal. It didn't have the same highlight-reel quality of his first goal, but it counted just the same.
West Ham entered Matchday 24 inside the relegation zone, which means every point they can secure between now and season's end will be helpful in their effort to remain in the top flight. They moved outside the bottom three for the time being, pending the week's other results.
The Hammers have Nolan to thank. Not only did he find the net twice, but he also did well to get some key tackles in to limit Swansea's push forward.
West Ham need more performances like that from him in the coming weeks and months if they are going to avoid relegation.