At the beginning of the season, I posed a question to a fellow West Ham supporter. “Where do you think we’ll be in the league at Christmas?”
He said instantly, “mid-table.” I, being the more pessimistic sort, figured that we’d be hovering around the relegation zone. So I am very happy that, as I write this, the team is sitting relatively comfortably in 11th position, over halfway towards our points target this season (which of course, is 40 points and survival) with plenty of games to go. However, we’re now coming round to a busy time of the season – the time which can make or break teams like ours.
After today’s game against Everton, we play Arsenal, Reading and Norwich City in quick succession. 12 points to play for – lose the majority of those games and we plummet down the table. But on the flip side, positive results mean you can rise very quickly. And our squad, which has been beset by injuries over recent weeks, will really be tested.
Looking ahead to today’s game and I think it’s fair to say it will be tricky. Everton have generally performed above expectations this season and are in and around the hunt for Champions League places. I would take a draw now but a win really would set Christmas off in style. Next up on Boxing Day, it’s a tough away game at Arsenal. I still have memories of Robert Green essentially playing Arsenal on his own the first time we visited the Emirates with Bobby Zamora tucking away the winner. A repeat, with different players, isn’t out of the question with Arsenal struggling for form at the moment. Again, I’d take a point now, but I do think that we owe them one after the result earlier this season at the Boleyn Ground, and a surprise isn’t completely beyond the realms of possibility. Remember Newcastle away?
It’s Reading in another away match on December 29. Longstanding fans will remember the 6-0 mauling that they dished out to us on New Years Day 2007, in one of Alan Curbishley’s first matches in charge – but of course, a lot’s changed since then. They’re in the relegation zone this time, not us and their main problem is that they find it impossible to keep a clean sheet. We are also smarting after their win at Upton Park last season. I’d target this one as a “must-win” match, and frankly, I’d be choking on the last of the leftover turkey if we lost this one.
Finally, on New Year’s Day, it’s back to the Boleyn for the game against Norwich City. Living in Norwich myself, I’ve seen first hand the job that Chris Hughton has done for the Canaries and make no mistake, they look like a decent side. Home wins against Manchester United and Arsenal without conceding a goal tell their own story. However, I would still put this down as a winnable match if we play to our potential. Their defence can be got at, as demonstrated by their match in the League Cup against Aston Villa (beaten 4-1).
So how many points will we gain then, over these four matches? As I said before, I’m the pessimistic sort. I wouldn’t expect too much return from Everton and Arsenal – maybe a point or two? – but Reading and Norwich are definitely winnable. From these four matches, I’d say bottom end five points, top end eight, but who knows what might happen if we play to our full potential? What I do know is, that a win today would start the sequence off really nicely, so here’s hoping that the boys can set us off into the festive period with some real Christmas cheer. Have a great Christmas, and – come on you Irons!