Should West Ham be worried?

Listen to the latest Hit Row Z podcast (published 4th December) out now on iTunes – subscribe and share!

Up until the international break, West Ham’s slide into the relegation mire had almost gone unnoticed. The impressive, tactical nature of their away win at Spurs bought the Hammers the benefit of the doubt from fans and pundits when further positive results failed to follow. But following another heavy defeat this weekend pressure is building on Sam Allardyce, with many claiming that unless their form improves, they will be facing relegation.

But just how worried should Hammers’ fans be about their sides’ slide down the league table?

First, let’s consider their performance so far this season. The Irons are currently outside of the relegation zone on goal difference alone. Yet, despite being relatively tight at the back, they have generally found goals, or even shots at goal, hard to come by. They have scored only twice in the last seven league games, and have failed to find the net in seven of their 12 games to date.

This has led to a particularly poor run of form in the Premier League at Upton Park, where they have won only one of their six home games so far this season – an opening day victory against Cardiff. Only four of their ten points have been gained at Upton Park – meaning they currently share the honours for the worst home form with Crystal Palace and Fulham.

This is in stark contrast to the beginning of last season, when the Hammers lost just one of their opening six games, and reached ten points (their current tally) by the beginning of October. Key to this impressive run was West Ham’s strong home form – only Arsenal beat the Hammers in their first eight games on home territory.

And this strength continued throughout the season. In total, they picked up 33 of their 46 points at Upton Park (as many as Liverpool secured at Anfield, and the joint eighth best home record in the league), and finished a comfortable tenth in the Premier League.

So far, so worrying. However, while Allardyce does face real challenges to move West Ham away from the wrong end of the table, this summary view does not tell the full picture.

Here are three reasons why West Ham fans do have some tentative causes for optimism.

First, the fixture list has not been kind to season ticket holders at Upton Park. Yes, West Ham have suffered four defeats in their six home games to date. But three of those defeats have come against Manchester City, Chelsea, and Everton – all teams at the top of the league vying for European spots.

True, the Hammers also lost to Stoke City, but by and large those games that West Ham have come up short in at home are games that Allardyce would probably expect to pinch a point in at best, with anything additional being a bonus.

To balance this picture, the next visitors to Upton Park are Fulham, followed by Sunderland. These are two must win games for the Irons, and assuming they do, their home record and league position will look radically different.

Second, West Ham’s away form has actually been relatively good. With only two defeats in their last six away trips, and six points gathered on their travels so far, West Ham have generally recorded good results away from Upton Park.

They currently have the twelfth best away record in the Premier League, and creditable points at Swansea, Newcastle and Southampton, and a spectacular 3-0 win at White Hart Lane hint at West Ham’s ability to compete in the Premier League.

West Ham only secured 13 points in total away from home last season – this season they already have six. If Allardyce can continue to ensure his team is hard to beat on their travels, they look on course to better this total which will boost their survival prospects.

And third, West Ham are currently hugely lacking upfront. Despite these mitigating circumstances, many still believe that the manner of West Ham’s performances to date are the real cause for alarm.

Much of this criticism steps from the Hammers’ lack of goals, which can largely be traced back to one absentee from their starting eleven – giant Geordie striker Andy Carroll.

Carroll spent last season on loan with the Irons, and was signed permanently this summer for a whopping £15m. Seemingly tailor-made for Allardyce’s direct tactics and powerful style, West Ham’s season to date would likely have been very different had Carroll been fit enough to play any kind of role.

Instead, blighted by injury, West Ham’s lack of depth in forward positions has been badly exposed. Modibo Maiga has failed to impress since arriving in East London, and even the return of Carlton Cole following his release this summer has had no tangible impact on the Hammers’ ability to hit the target.

Indeed, on more than one occasion, Allardyce has, either by choice or necessity, lined up with no recognised strikers in his starting eleven. But lacking any kind of presence in the opposing penalty area, the form of Kevin Nolan, Matt Jarvis and Stewart Downing has also faltered.

Ravel Morrison however, has shone this season, and has used this opportunity to demonstrate exactly what he can do. Furthermore, when you look at Hit Row Z’s analysis of shots in the box, West Ham have actually performed better than other sides in the bottom half of the table so far this season – If that remains consistently the case, results should improve.

Conclusions

This brief analysis has highlighted that although West Ham do find themselves in a difficult situation, fans and pundits alike would be wise to resist panicking at this stage.

Their home form may be poor, but the fixture list has not been kind to them, and their away form has been relatively good. Likewise, although their style of play and level of performance has been lacking in recent weeks, much of that can be explained by the lack of any kind of presence upfront, and in particular, the absence of their star striker.

While it is true that Carroll’s return, or the signing of another striker would undoubtedly boost the Irons, Allardyce can’t afford to wait that long for an upturn in fortunes. Luckily for him, he should not have to, as West Ham face each of the bottom three teams over the course of their next four games.

Fail to gain significant points in those games, and it might be time for the Hammers’ to start worrying.

Listen to the latest Hit Row Z podcast (published 4th December) out now on iTunes – subscribe and share!

Trackbacks

  1. […] registered a league win between them in a month. Both lost home matches at the weekend with Sam Allardyce no longer able to dine out on the 3-0 win at White Hart Lane back in early October. His ‘false nine’ tactics aren’t cutting it (regardless of whether […]

  2. […] Should West Ham be worried? (hitrowz.com) […]

  3. […] They’re creating chances in the box, but are way below the league average in terms of conversion. Carroll returning to fitness should provide the boost the Hammers need to survive, and fans will be hoping that Carlton Cole and Mladen Petric can step-up and ease the pressure on […]

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