If his sacking as Newcastle manager still counts as the blackest stain on his CV, then Sam Allardyce has taken a substantial measure of well-chilled revenge. This was his second journey back to Tyneside since the day he made way for the brief and very unmessianic second coming of Kevin Keegan. On both occasions he has left with three points.

"Not really," Allardyce replied with icy diplomacy when asked if this win gave him special satisfaction, although it was an answer you struggled to believe. Newcastle was the watershed in Allardyce's career, the proof that whatever he might have achieved on limited budgets at Bolton Wanderers, he could not handle a big club. Had his time by the Tyne gone differently, he might have been England manager by now.

West Ham are a pretty big club and, after their first win at St James' Park since 1998, they find themselves sixth in the table, ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham. "Eighteen points from 11 games is an outstanding performance from a newly promoted side," he said. "But we are laden with players with experience of the Premier League and I have plenty of experience in this league myself.

"I think there is only [Sir] Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger who have more experience than me in this league, perhaps David Moyes – we have about 10 years apiece. I can guide the players and because a lot of them have been here before that has been the key to our good start because nothing overawes them."

When Allardyce said: "a lot of players had been here before," it could have been taken literally. There were so many men facing their former clubs that it would have been a surprise had one of them not made a decisive impact. Here, the man was Kevin Nolan.

His goal had a slightly fortuitous quality to it, although he reacted well to turn it in at the far post for his fifth of the season. A long ball into the Newcastle box was played out poorly by Davide Santon and, as it broke, Joey O'Brien met it first. He attempted a shot that was speeding wide before Nolan turned it home, although Newcastle's one-time captain chose not to celebrate as he stood perhaps a couple of feet from the Gallowgate End.

"I had an absolutely fantastic time here. I love everything about Newcastle and I would never, ever celebrate scoring against them," said Nolan. "My boy was born up here. He is a Geordie."

Shortly afterwards, Nolan almost had a second goal not to celebrate as he, played through by the afternoon's outstanding figure, Mohamed Diamé, drove between Santon and Steven Taylor and shot just wide of the post.

Nolan is a naturally aggressive midfielder but here Allardyce employed him as an authentic striker alongside Andy Carroll. Since Carroll once moved in with Nolan to keep him out of trouble and out of Newcastle's bars, it is perhaps not surprising that Allardyce remarked that their understanding was so good that it did not have to be coached.

However good his understanding with his one-time landlord, Carroll has not found the net since his soaring, Alan Shearer-like header against Sweden in group stages of the European Championship. In the second half, however, it came close to producing the second goal that would have put the match beyond Newcastle's limited reach. Nolan sent through Carroll who was denied by some fine reaction goalkeeping from Tim Krul.

The team whose rebuilding was largely funded by Carroll's sale to Liverpool laid a long siege to the Gallowgate End without suggesting that they would break through. In Allardyce's words: "their efforts were half-chances and our keeper was there when we needed him." The Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew, said: "the pressure did not produce a special moment".

The man who managed West Ham to an FA Cup final and Newcastle into Europe was perhaps being unfair on his own team. There were a few isolated special moments and one of potential controversy when Demba Ba rose to meet Shane Ferguson's cross only to see what seemed a certain goal scooped away by Jussi Jaaskelainen. The Gallowgate was convinced it had crossed the line, although television replays were largely inconclusive.

Another shot from Ba sped past the post while Hatem Ben Arfa almost scored direct from a corner. A further shot from the Frenchman was then saved by Jaaskelainen at full stretch. However, Pardew bemoaned a lack of rhythm and real pressure and his players did not make a conclusive case for one point, let alone three.

It was an afternoon that cost more than points. Papiss Cissé, Jonás Gutiérrez and Yohan Cabaye all picked up injuries. Their former defender, Robbie Elliott, who rode into St James' Park during the interval to complete a 3,500 mile cycle ride to every ground where Sir Bobby Robson had managed, must have wondered if his blisters had been worthwhile.