West Ham’s defensive improvements as important as those made up front

Hammers a solid unit at the back

It was just over a month ago West Ham conceded three soft first half goals to West Brom in a forgettable opening 45 minutes.

Terrible marking from set pieces, failing to close opponents down and prevent crosses coming into the box were three of a number of issues which bore their ugly head that day and in truth for the majority of the campaign.

West Ham fought back and snatched a point in a 3-3 draw, but the Hammers defensive frailties were there for all to see and defensive coach Wally Downes conceded a “few choice words” were said and “They knew they had let themselves down and hadn’t played well enough”.

Scoring 12 goals in the five games since has shifted the focus towards West Ham’s ability going forward, however little notice has been taken of their recent solidity at the other end of the pitch and in the same period the Hammers have let in just four.

Clean sheets against Stoke two weeks ago and Tottenham on Saturday- their first at White Hart Lane in 11 years- reveal the team are clicking at both ends of the pitch.

“In all the last three games we have conceded just one goal to Liverpool,” boss Avram Grant said.

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“It is good because we have scored a lot of goals, but we know that if we want points we need to keep clean sheets sometimes.”

Matthew Upson, Manuel da Costa and Wayne Bridge and have become far more dependable, while Robert Green is playing as well as he ever has in a West Ham shirt.

The former Norwich man has always been a solid shot stopper and over the past month Green has been impeccable. There has been plenty of praise for the wonderful saves he has made over the past month, in particular against Spurs.

“Greeny made a couple of outstanding saves,” said skipper Upson, who was amazed he kept out Gareth Bale’s swerving second half effort.

“The one from the free kick, I just don’t know how he has got there. To get enough of a hand on it to put it on to the bar was fantastic.”

Saves are obviously eye-catching, but the enhanced communication to those in front of him and the confident in manner he claims crosses have been just as important.

When playing against direct teams such as Birmingham City, West Ham had been guilty of dropping too deep, inviting pressure, but his insistence of the defence to push further up field negated the aerial threat of Stoke in the league game at Upton Park, while his commanding claims of crosses gave those in front of him confidence.

It’s a far cry from his horrible mistake against America in the World Cup, when he split Clint Dempsey’s weak effort into the net.

Boss Grant has always backed Green, saying before Christmas “He is one of the best goalkeepers in the country,” and it seems his predication is starting to run true.

Green has been selected for the England squad to take on Wales this Saturday, it just remains to be seen whether he will be given the nod over Manchester City counterpart Joe Hart.

If he does it will be a remarkable turnaround for a goalkeeper some thought would never recover from his American nightmare.

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