The next three matches will see West Ham play leading or fancied clubs in the Championship; a couple of wins, or losses, could see us top of the pile or back in mid-table. How we do will provide a strong indication of our prospects but importantly neither a guarantee of success or failure next May.
Before the season started I wrote a piece suggesting that, based on previous experiences in the division, optimism among fans of a comfortable return to the Premier League would soon dissipate; relegated teams invariably struggle and even teams like Newcastle, who ended up winning the league at a canter, endured some ordinary runs of form.
After drawing one and winning five of their first six games; they went on to lose three, draw two and win two of the next seven. They then won seven on the bounce but in the ten games between Dec 12th and February 10th they drew six, won three and lost one- thumped 3-0 by a poor Derby County.
Actually we are couple of points and league places better off than my median expectation but I am a football fan and our failure to score goals or our seeming predilection to ship them at inopportune moments, instead of amassing points in the style of Southampton thus far, leaves me feeling a touch flat. Should I be worried? I don’t know.
As a fan in the Championship it is hard to assess definitively the worth of any given result until you approach the second half or even final quarter of the season. In the Premier League you know a home point to Chelsea is a point gained; to Blackburn it’s two dropped whenever they happen in the fixtures; an away win at Liverpool, Everton or United is a bloody miracle. In the Premier League hope and expectation is easily divined.
Not so in the Championship. Right now the perspective on 4-1 away to Forest looks pretty straight forward. They were poor and we didn’t need to be, and weren’t in fact, particularly great in demolishing them but who knows? A new manager, a charge up the table mid-season and suddenly three points off a rival, away, looks pretty decent. Bottom beats top, bad beats good that’s the Football League.
Overall I think Sam has been a good thing. The team is better organised than at any time since Curbs left and we had a productive transfer window. The squad, I think, is better than the one with which we started last season. He is a pragmatist and he is organised.
As things stand Sam already has the best win percentage of any permanent West Ham manager (45.45%) True, he thinks a lot of himself and having once epitomised everything West Ham fans thought they hated in the game, I don’t feel he’ll ever be loved. But really, l can’t think of anyone else who we may reasonably have hoped to employ who could do a better job.
As August recedes, when despite themselves fans and players can’t escape the notion that they are on loan from above, the more game pressure matters and mental fragility can be exploited by spirited performances by inferior teams. Returning to the Newcastle template we could do with going on a substantial winning run – say five or six games.
Nolan would appear to be one worry; the suggestion being he doesn’t get forward and back quickly enough when playing 4-4-2 and is primarily responsible for leaving the lone striker isolated when we play 4-5-1 or as Sam would have it 4-3-3. As result of goals drying up; the defence gets the collywobbles as time ticks down. You’d hope that when Tomkins and Reid are fit that will happen less. More worrying IMO is the form of the strikers. It is not as if they aren’t getting the opportunities. In every game bar Ipswich we have had more crosses, corners and pots at goal than the opposition. Perhaps Taylor is missed and Bentley is not cutting it on the left.
There are some who fear for us against teams like Southampton, Leicester, and Brighton etc. it may be that playing better teams will bring out the best in us. In summary, I am a little concerned but given his career record, I still trust in Sam to iron out the kinks, blend the team and go on a bit of run before Christmas.
Quarter term marks- 13/20 : Home record: 5 / 10. Away record 8/10
Article contributed by Kevin in Manchester.