For many West Ham fans, our season died some months ago. However, a run of sensationally dreadful results suddenly pitched us back into the relegation frame until a series of half decent results in the last three games have pushed us to the brink of safety again. In all honesty, one more result in our final four games will put to sleep any likelihood of the Hammers slipping into the bottom three.
As such, an away trip to Stoke is hardly the most enticing fixture of the campaign. The Brittania stadium is not one where the Hammers have enjoyed great success over the years and for the purists the style of football that is usually on offer requires some imagination in order to reconcile it with the notion of 'the beautiful game'! So, my friends, to put it simply - why would you bother to engage with today's mid-table dead rubber against the Potters?
1. With the injury room busier than an NHS A&E, our fringe players are getting a chance to save their squad positions for next season. From today's confirmed starting XI Collins, Fonte, Calleri, Nordtveit and even Ayew are playing for their West Ham lives. One might add Arthur Masuaku to that list as his battle for the left back starting berth with Aaron Cresswell is the kind of tussle that we need to see more of in the squad as it brings an undeniable focus to the players efforts. This is no dead rubber for most of our players!
2. With Mark Noble starting on the bench we will get a chance to take a good look at how well Cheik Kouyate plays in a more attacking role with Havard Nordtveit sitting deep in front of our three centre-back formation. In all honesty, we have not found a stable defensive formation this season and have suffered by repeatedly conceding goals at crucial times. This week it's another chance to consider the three CB set up that allowed us to keep a clean sheet against the terrifying goalscoring prowess of Romelu Lukaku last week.
3. Yet another chance to see if a non-specialist right back can cope in that position - or to rephrase things, in the era of highly specialised and usually horrifically pacey wingers, we can gather yet more evidence that the role of full back is now equally specialised and cannot be filled by natural midfielders! SuperSlav REALLY needs to movce on from this farce next season and bring in at least one more right back as even the checkout staff in the Westfield Shopping Centre know that the Antonio/ Kouyate/Fernandes experiments of this season have been a sickening failure!
4. Stoke are on an impressively poor run and we might get a rare win - they have lost their last five games while we are unbeaten in our last three and should have won each of those games. We have managed 4 draws and three defeats in our last 7 clashes with Stoke, last winning in 2013 1-0 at the Brittania. West Ham are 3-1 to win with Stoke at evens. Both sides can still make the top ten so a hard fought draw is a decent bet at 5-2.
5. The current Stoke side are pretty decent to watch and have evolved from the assaultative long ball tactics of previous campaigns to play some decent footie these days - perhaps that's why they keep losing! With Arnautovic and Shakiri they have two very skilful players who are capable of keeping fans from both sides amused and titillated throughout the game.
Starting XI: Adrian, Masuaku, Reid, Fonte, Collins, Fernandes, Kouyate, Nordtveit, Lanzini, Ayew, Calleri.
Subs: Randolph, Noble, Cresswell, Snodgrass, Feghouli, Byram, Fletcher