Eleven years ago to the day, Sam Allardyce made his debut as a top-flight manager and watched Kevin Nolan score and Jussi Jaaskelainen keep a clean sheet as his Bolton side marked the occasion with a victory over Leicester City. A lot has changed since then but Allardyce's football principles remain the same and so does the identity of his most trusty sidekicks: Nolan's goal here and another blank for Jaaskelainen made this a perfect Premier League return for Allardyce and his robust West Ham team.

Nolan's decisive goal was like so many others that he has scored down the years for Allardyce, the midfielder converting from close range after Ricardo Vaz Tê cut back the ball from the goalline. The assistant referee had waved frantically to indicate that Vaz Tê was offside when he had received the ball but the official in the middle, Mike Dean, correctly spotted the ball had arrived at the Portuguese via the hand of defender Ciaran Clark.

Villa's manager, Paul Lambert, graciously congratulated the referee afterwards for making the right call, while Allardyce hailed the prowess of his 30-year-old captain. "He got that goal on instinct," Allardyce said. "He's on the move when other players are standing watching. He's as good in the box as any Premier League forward."

The goal was extravagant reward for a first half in which Allardyce's team grew in stature after being initially cowed by Villa's controlled passing. Lambert's first mission as Villa manager is to banish the disturbing memory of Alex McLeish's grim reign and the tidy interplay his team showed earned the approval of the travelling fans. Their relieved chants of "we're Aston Villa and we're passing the ball" brought levity that temporarily atoned for the lack of goalmouth action. Karim El Ahmadi, one of four summer recruits making debuts for the visitors, showed himself to be a particularly adroit passer but for all their nimble play, Villa looked lightweight and one-paced going forward and Darren Bent was starved of service.

"We couldn't get the ball in the first 15 minutes because they were keeping it so well without doing much with it," Allardyce said. "But once we overcame that we were the better team."

Mohamed Diamé, one of the three summer signings given a debut by Allardyce, was instrumental in turning the play in West Ham's favour, his muscle in central midfield contributing to the decline of Villa's early vim. Carlton Cole's aerial power, meanwhile, tormented Villa's new centre-back, Ron Vlaar. Still, until the goal, Shay Given had not had a shot to save.

Stephen Ireland forced a decent stop from Jaaskelainen within 40 seconds of the resumption but Villa, despite still enjoying the majority of possession, did not bother him again until the 76th minute when the Finn dived to claim a long-range drive by Vlaar. Before that, the Dutch defender had prevented his team from falling two goals behind, blocking a Nolan shot after delightful work down the right by Vaz Tê. West Ham's new £4.5m striker, Modibo Maïga, was introduced for the final minutes and nearly crowned his debut with a goal, only to be foiled by Nathan Baker after rounding Given.

Allardyce's joy was undiminished. "It's so important to get the season off to a good start because it takes the pressure off the players," he said. There was no such relief for Villa.