West Ham gained three vital points against Aston Villa to aid our chances of Premier League survival. Now Big Sam’s men must continue preparing for a winter in which points could be in short supply by stockpiling as much as they can before the frost bites.
The Premier League is a glorious environment. Every team and player in England wants a place in our nation’s top flight, not to mention the swathe of foreign players who flock to our shores to bask in the glory of the greatest show on earth. Yep, the Premier League is definitely the place to be. It’s where the rich get richer and the poor get richer too, for a time at least.
A season in the murky world of Championship football was enough for us to know where we wanted, and needed, to call home. But the Premier League is also the most brutal of environments. As West Ham fans, we have felt the severity of this brutality on many occasions. And now we are back amongst it we only need to look at our own fixture list to see the Premier League displaying it’s unique brand of sadism again. Just take a peek at the games we face from the start of November until the beginning of January 2013:
Sat 3 Nov Manchester City H; Sat 10 Nov Newcastle United A; Mon 19 Nov Stoke City H; Sun 25 Nov Tottenham Hotspur A; Wed 28 Nov Manchester United A; Sat 1 Dec Chelsea H; Sat 8 Dec Liverpool H; Sat 15 Dec West Brom Albion A; Sat 22 Dec Everton H; Wed 26 Dec Arsenal A; Sat 29 Dec Reading A).
It’s lucky a strong current of masochism runs deep in the claret and blue blood of every Hammer, otherwise you would never have looked at that. To summarise, West Ham will play every one of the teams that finished in the top eight of the Premier League last season within the confines of just 11 games. Needless to say, when winter comes around, West Ham need to have enough wins stocked up to prevent us from getting frozen to the bottom of the league by the beginning of 2013. Sam Allardyce has identified our early games as the ones in which we must pick up the most points.
“Our fixture list has not given us any of the big boys early on so you have got to try and do as much as you can and take advantage of that. No game is easy as a newly-promoted team, but it gives you the chance to play your best and secure some points. These fixtures are critical for us until November when the big games start fl owing each week.”
As such, grabbing points against our next league opponents, Fulham (H), will be vital and could prove to be the springboard for our entire season, especially considering the way Fulham started with such vigour, winning 5-0 on the opening day. They will be brimming with confidence and so should West Ham be if we are able to get points from both games. If we can take good form into our following games against Norwich (A), Sunderland (H) and QPR (A), we should be able to build up some further momentum to take us into our match against Arsenal at Upton Park on Saturday 6 October.
I don’t think that it is too much to expect nine points from the three matches in the run up to the showdown with the Gunners. I don’t think that it is too much to expect nine points from the three matches in the run up to the showdown with the Gunners. After all, Norwich and QPR were the two sides defeated 5-0 by Fulham and Swansea, respectively, so they have shown themselves to be hugely fl awed. And Sunderland, although stronger under Martin O’Neill, are inconsistent and lack enough fi re power to really threaten a powerful, defensive side like the one we have become.
Grabbing a point at home against Arsenal is certainly possible. Three would be great, but the chances of that are remote. I’m sure Allardyce’s focus is fixed heavily on the Southampton (H) and Wigan (A) games that follow Arsene Wenger’s visit. Wins against the Saints and Dave Whelan Athletic will be fundamental to West Ham’s confidence going into November. If we can’t beat the teams that are likely to be around the relegation scrap, we don’t really stand a chance against those fighting for a place in Europe or, indeed, the title.
We can pretty much write the Man City game off as literally pointless, even though it is at Upton Park. Roberto Mancini’s side are bound to have way too much pace and power for us to handle. That’s not even taking into account the technical wizardry of players such as David Silva and Samir Nasri, who can undo supposedly rigid defences at will. Newcastle away would have been seen as an opportunity to gain some points before our old mate Pards worked his magic there and turned them into one of the most consistent and exciting sides in the league. A draw at St James’ (I’m insisting on calling it that) would be an excellent result for us, but I can’t see it happening.
Amongst all the chaos of November, we have a great chance to get three points when we host Stoke. Whenever Tony Pulis drags his men away from their comfort zone of the Britannia Stadium, they are not the same side. Our players must seize this opportunity for a victory. Then we can go into the Spurs game on a high.
London derbies are never easy to call. Spurs should win our game at White Hart Lane on Sunday 25 November, but it is never that simple. Tottenham giving ‘Arry the boot and appointing Chelsea-failure Andre Villas-Boas has complicated things and could be their undoing, so we may be able to snatch points against our old rivals. We live in hope. It’s also worth noting that Spurs have their own tough November to deal with. They have to play Man City away and go to the Emirates for the North London derby before they play us, and they then host Liverpool.
After our run-in with Tottenham, though, we have to travel to Old Trafford. Everton proved on the opening day that a well-organised side with a near-superhuman work rate and fearless aggression can defeat Man United. But Everton were at home with their fans in full voice when they won 1-0. Going to the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ and getting the same result is never easy – unless Fergie rests his best players and you have Tevez playing up front, that is. I predict another simple defeat against another superior Manchester side.
Next up on 1 December, we have another derby against Chelsea. And, despite all I just said about derbies being unpredictable, I really cannot see us getting a sniff against Roberto Di Matteo’s champions of Europe. They have invested heavily in the summer and, in players like Eden Hazard, Oscar, Juan Mata and a reformed Fernando Torres, they have enough attacking talent to pull opposing defences to pieces. I will be amazed if we get a point against the Blues at Upton Park.
Our remaining games before Christmas are slightly more favourable, but still bound to be extremely difficult. First we have Liverpool, a shadow of their former selves at the moment, but Brendan Rodgers may have got them back on track by the time we meet. Then we play West Brom, who embarrassed Liverpool on the opening day, defeating the Reds 3-0. Finally, on 22 December, we play Everton. Who, as I suggested before, were very impressive against Man United on the opening day.
I would expect us to get something from the game against the Baggies, especially because Liverpool’s defeat at The Hawthorns was as much their own doing as it was West Brom’s. But Liverpool are unlikely to shoot themselves in the foot like that again, and Everton may just go from strength to strength, so we could have as little joy against the Scousers as I believe we will against the Mancs.
West Ham’s last two fixtures of 2012, against Arsenal and Reading, should offer opposing fortunes. Getting a win at the Emirates is nigh on impossible for teams like West Ham, but defeating those promoted with us is exactly what we should be doing if we hope to survive.
Predicting where West Ham will be at the end of the year is both hopeless and meaningless. There are just too many factors involved. The new signings, injuries, form and luck for each team in the Premier League will dictate results and ultimately where we stand. But it is plain for all to see that West Ham need to stock up on points early on, or fail to survive.
When West Ham were promoted back into the Premier League at the first time of asking last season, ‘Back where we belong’ was the phrase that left our lips, was posted on our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and adorned many a claret and blue banner in Wembley. Now is the time to prove it.