Ever been driving down a road in the sunshine, and in the distance, you see dark clouds – and you just know that when you end up at your destination, the sunshine will be replaced by rain?
Apply this metaphor to West Ham’s season, and it’s fair to say that even if we aren’t going to end up in the storm of relegation (and that’s a big if), there’s definitely showers in the air following a sunny start. Two wins in eleven games is, to say the least, not good form, and this article is being written just after the Arsenal game where (lest we forget) we managed to concede four goals in the space of ten minutes.
So where’s the season headed? Do we have a real relegation battle to worry about? To answer that question, we need to not only look at ourselves but other teams towards the bottom of the table. In recent weeks, Southampton, Reading and QPR particularly have hit a little run of league form. The gap between ourselves and the bottom three has, over the course of the last few weeks, shrunk.
We are starting to look vulnerable, although an upturn in form from these clubs may not last. We’ve also had a tough run of games, and despite success over Chelsea in particular, these games have largely produced the expected results, with injuries to key players not helping. The most worrying display recently (aside from the “ten minutes of madness” against Arsenal) was against Sunderland away, when the team were beaten comfortably.
Most worryingly of all, we don’t seem to be able to score goals. We’ve been saying this all season, but it bears repeating: we can create chances, but we seem to have an inability to put the ball into the back of the net. And without scoring goals, you can’t win football matches. A woeful away record of six goals scored so far tells its own story.
So far, not so good. So where are the crumbs of comfort to be found? Will we be chewing our nails come the home match against Reading, or will safety (or relegation!) have been confirmed by then? As I write, we are eight points clear of the relegation zone on 27 points.
We’re looking for another five wins from our remaining fifteen games to make absolutely certain of safety, though my suspicion is that four might be enough. There’s no doubt that Sam Allardyce will be targeting certain fixtures for maximum points, and casting my eye down the remainder of the fixture list, it certainly won’t be easy, with a tough-looking March in particular in prospect (Stoke City away, Man Utd home, Chelsea away, West Brom home). I’m hopeful that we might have picked up a point or three away to Fulham prior to you reading this, but even if not,
Big Sam will be looking at February and hoping for maximum points from a Swansea side who have a cup final on their mind, and an Aston Villa team who’ve just been shocking all season. With players coming back from injury, particularly Andy Carroll, six points from those two matches would be very welcome, and it would be very handy to enter March and the final eleven games only needing three wins (ish) from them, therefore avoiding a relegation battle. Anything less and things could get a bit twitchy
I have a sneaky feeling that in the final analysis, we’ll get over the line, although possibly not by much. Much will come down to the form (or lack of) from our goalscorers, but at some point our form will improve and there are other teams who, I’d suggest, don’t have enough of a squad to survive the relegation battle. If we do survive, we need to address our lack of goals but that’s for another day. Let’s ensure we finish the season in the same division as where we started, eh?