Saturday 6 February 2016

Southampton can provide a Barometer

After Tuesday night's victory over Aston Villa West Ham are sixth in the Premiership table with 14 games to go and perfectly positioned to push for a European place. However, despite dominating a defensive-minded Villa side with 70% possession the Hammers made hard work of actually sealing the win and were undoubtedly helped enormously by the early dismissal of Jordan Ayew for violent conduct.

Before the sending off Villa looked the more sprightly of the two sides and had a decent penalty shout for a hand ball incident turned down. Thereafter, they parked the bus and West Ham struggled to create real chances. In the post Big Sam era we are less bothered with the statistical 'paint by numbers' approach to tactical analysis, but the tally of 16 shots off target is hard to overlook. Right now, West Ham are playing without an out and out striker and it shows in terms of our lack of cutting edge.

Andy Carroll is scheduled to return today while newbie Emmanuel Emenike has his permit in order and could also appear. Interestingly, much of the debate around Emenike's remarkable loss of form at international level focuses around his preference to play in a wide position rather than as a central attacker, and thus smacks of a back up for Enner Valencia. In reality, the player most Hammers fans want back most is Diafra Sakho and will hope that he will be ready in the next fortnight as planned.

This evening's game is another crucial fixture where three points would put pressure on those above them, with Spurs facing a tricky clash with Watford, Man united snarled up with a recovering Chelsea and Leicester and Man City in a head to head top of the table tussle. However, Southampton will be keen to get back into the mix and, although with 5 fewer points, sit just one place below us. As a side salad, there's the whole Charlie Austin thing to consider, but in all fairness to our defence, we have handled him pretty well in the past when he was with QPR.

Perhaps more importantly, the Hammers have been lukewarm in their form over the past few games and this encounter will tell a lot in terms of where we sit in the real scheme of things. A recent computer-generated end of table prediction placed us in eighth. At the start of the season we would have grabbed that, but that was before we realised just how good Payet and Lanzini were. accordingly, our aspirations have been recalibrated to include a top six finish. This evening will provide a barometer.

Rory Nostradamus predicts a 1-1 draw while horoscope expert. Mark Lawrenson predicts .....well, you know what he predicts!

Fingers crossed we can nick a win and the rest stutter.



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