Being at the foot of the Premier League at Christmas is a fate that all sides wish to avoid. Peering over their shoulders’, clubs fear the ‘Curse of Christmas’ that dooms sides to relegation before December has even ended. This has been the case for over 20 years with one exception – West Brom made the ‘Great Escape’ in the 04/05 season, finishing in 17th position after being rock bottom as Santa flew over the world.
If we just have a look back to Christmas 2010, West Ham United were rooted to the foot of the Premier League and the curse struck. We spent the 11/12 season in the Championship as we all could have predicted in January. It’s a very strange and interesting pattern. Maybe it’s mostly a mental battle for clubs who panic at the sight of the table and fixtures that seem beyond them. If they’ve had a poor first half of the season, they roll over and concede that they will have a bad second half too. Even if some fighting spirit kicks in at the end of March, it’s too little, too late.
The build up of fixtures in the festive period certainly is difficult. If one player is struck by injury in the first of a run of games, your whole season can be turned on its head. As the table currently stands at the time of writing, it may look at little precarious for West Ham, but as is usually the case, one win over your table neighbours can make a big difference.
Let’s have a quick look at our festive fixtures, which for us this year includes the extra complication of the League Cup. We have five games in two weeks, which line up as follows: Sunderland at home (14th), Spurs away in the cup (18th), Man United away (21st), Arsenal at home (26th) and West Brom at home (28th). Yeah, difficult. Facing Manchester United and Arsenal in the same week is the stuff nightmares are made of.
By then, David Moyes’ side may have found their rhythm and we’ve seen how Arsenal can pick themselves up. We will either be boosted by another historic win at White Hart Lane or tired out because we tried too hard to impress and failed.
We also can’t underestimate Sunderland and West Brom. Sunderland will also be keen to avoid being bottom on Christmas day, so they should be fired up. Gus Poyet knows his oppositions well and may be able to pounce on our weaknesses. West Brom probably won’t need to be fighting come the end of December, but they are probably aiming a little higher
An ever-improving side, West Brom will prove difficult opposition and that could be a game that we applaud a point from. December fixtures are so important to a whole season. They are a test of squad depth, stamina and fitness. Obviously, the aim for all sides is to gain as many points as possible in a two week period.
But I think that it’s important to be realistic. Out of those four league fixtures, there are 12 points on offer and to be honest, we could be looking at walking away with two. It’s very easy for fans to look at that and turn on the side, but I do believe that December is hard for all clubs and the way fixtures fall is key. We seem to have been rather unlucky with the draw this year. It would be easy to imagine a conspiracy here.
It’s so important that we keep level heads. This kind of difficult fixture cluster makes me nervous. I can already foresee booing and ridiculous calls for Big Sam’s head as we struggle through a striker crisis and are 2-0 down at half time to glorious Van Persie strikes. All we can ask is for effort and commitment, and then we’ll stand a chance of more than two points and a harmonised crowd and players.
My only worry is ‘Second Season Syndrome’. Being so precariously placed at this time of year is a nail biting experience, but add to the mix that we had a blinding first season back in the Premier League makes me feel like we could be in for a disappointing end to the season. We will probably grind out lots of 0-0 draws and narrow scrappy wins. Christmas won’t be merry and bright for West Ham this year, but if we come out the other side alive and ready for the new year, we should have Andy Carroll to look forward to and a fruitful 2014.