West Ham: We Can't Afford To Sacrifice More Games
After the high of four consecutive wins for the first time since the days of Tevez, back-to-back defeats coupled with West Brom discovering a scoreline other than 1-1 have thrown West Ham back into the relegation mix.
On Saturday evening they welcome a Manchester United side on a high from securing next month’s 7-0 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich, and will want to avoid a repeat of the reverse fixture where Sam Allardyce’s players gave the opposition too much respect and consequently slumped to a routine 3-1 defeat.
In Allardyce’s earlier days at Bolton, and to a lesser degree in West Ham’s first season back in the Premier League last year, the manager was known for categorising games and setting points targets for each category. This tended to manifest itself in an impressive record at home to lower and mid-table teams and damage limitation against those at the top.
To use an example, last season West Ham took six of their 46 points against teams in the top seven places in the league. In his final campaign at Bolton, the 7th-place finish in 2006-07, 11 points were attained against teams above them in the league. On both occasions, away games against ‘top’ sides resulted in a single point.
This season has been similar in some ways but different in others. Nine games against clubs in the top seven have seen the Irons accrue four points, but strangely all of these have come away from home – the 3-0 victory at White Hart Lane in September and the goalless draw at Stamford Bridge in the 19th century.
At home to Manchester City and Chelsea it looked at times as though the manager didn’t know whether to stick or twist, starting with nominally defensive line-ups (those were the days of the 4-6-0 experiment) but lacking the defensive solidity seen throughout much of the campaign.
It was perhaps with this in mind that we witnessed what I would consider the most depressing moment of the season. After gifting Liverpool a 2-0 lead at Anfield with an own goal and a soft Mamadou Sakho effort, the manager made two changes and got back into the game through an own goal from Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel.
However rather than go for the win, his response was to sit back down in the dugout as if to say “We came for a single goal defeat and we’ve got it”. Last season that might have been grudgingly accepted, but in the middle of a run of one win in eight games there’s a sense that writing off any match is at best risky.
Things have of course improved slightly since that afternoon, with the club now holding a points cushion over the bottom three rather than only being out of the relegation zone on goal difference, but with a tough run of games coming up before the end of the season we have passed the point where it makes sense to settle for a narrow defeat. This is particularly true of a game where the opponents have been overexerted in midweek and could be without their talisman Robin van Persie.
With players returning from injury and Andy Carroll finally finding the net for the first time in the campaign, West Ham’s squad is stronger than it has been for months. It would be a shame to waste this situation.