Being sent off and series of poor referring decisions marred an otherwise pleasing afternoon for West Ham manager Sam Allardyce.
Having seen his side ship six goals in back-to-back defeats against Barnsley and Reading, a comfortable 1-0 win – courtesy of a Papa Bouba Diop header after six minutes – was the early Christmas present Allardyce would have wanted.
A red card seven minutes from time, for protesting that his side were denied a penalty, was not.
West Ham looked threatening going forward, but more importantly after recent results were solid at the back, despite a reshuffled back four which included 17-year-old debutant Daniel Potts, son of Upton Park hero Steve, at left-back after Abdoulaye Faye was ruled out 20 minutes before kick off with a calf injury.
With eight first team players unavailable due to injury or suspension even before Faye’s withdrawal, Allardyce praised his team’s character to win under difficult circumstances.
“I’m not sure anyone’s squad could be stretched like ours was today and win a game off football like that,” he said.
“Everything was against us today, but we have come through with an important victory.
“To get a clean sheet was a great credit to the whole team, the lads in front of the defence worked so hard today knowing our back four was weakened today.
“It was a great debut for Pottsy, he was very good defensively and in possession too.”
Barnsley were second best for much of the game and, despite an improved second half performance, failed to create any genuine goal scoring chances. Manager Keith Hill summed up the difference between the two sides.
“When you consider the strike force they have got and the physically ability of their players, it is going to be very difficult for teams like us to compete,” he said.
Allardyce said it was a culmination of poor decisions – a missed penalty on Frederic Piquionne in the first half and a clear foul on Potts from Jim O’Brien in the second – that led to his anger.
“The challenge on Potts was reckless and dangerous. The lad hasn’t played the ball and he has only jumped into the man. That is what flicked the red mist for me, as well as the Picquionne penalty was so blatant.”
Having taking the lead early from a corner, West Ham controlled the match and Carlton Cole should have doubled their lead when he out-muscled two defenders before firing wide from six yards, although he was off balance.
Barnsley’s best chance fell to Craig Davies, but he was denied by an excellent last-gasp challenge in the area from George McCartney.
Early in the second period, Rob Green preserved West Ham’s lead with a fantastic acrobatic save from a Rob Edwards header.
At the other end Freddie Sears, a second-half substitute for John Carew, and Mark Noble saw efforts go over the bar.