Sam Allardyce has confirmed that the club’s target over the next four PL matches is to take six points from a possible twelve. The obvious source of the points being the home matches against Sunderland this Saturday and WBA on 28 December 2013. The team can certainly help themselves if they can take maximum points in these two matches, as the other two fixtures are at home against Man Utd and Arsenal. It is going to be tough, especially if we continue to be so wasteful in front of goal, but the squad need to buckle down and grind out a couple of vital wins in this key period.
Can we take anything out of the Man Utd and Arsenal matches? Well, we should not just turn up to make up the numbers. The squad need to be competitive and put in a couple of good performances, as part of the revival process. Good performances build confidence and if we can nick a point or three against a out of sorts Man Utd then so much the better. With Nolan’s absence through suspension it gives us the opportunity to try a different set up, with either Ravel Morrison or Joe Cole playing in an advanced midfield role. Also, with Stewart Downing out injured, Matt Jarvis needs to get back to his best form out wide. Jarvis has the pace and skill to really test the opposition, but I just wish that he could use his assets to score more goals. Too often Jarvis breaks through on goal and seems to lack the confidence to finish. We all know that he can do it, as evidenced by his time at Wolves. Now he needs to do it in a West Ham shirt.
We shall have to see what the situation is with James Tomkins’ injury. Hopefully he will recover and be able to line up alongside Collins this Saturday. If not then I guess it is a choice between young Leo Chambers or either McCartney or Diarra as an auxillary centre back. Since Reid has been injured the defence has become almost as problematic as the forward line. We have allowed sloppy defending to creep back in and seem unusually error ridden just lately. We need to cut that out and try to get back to the solid defending that we exhibited at the beginning of the season. However, the sooner Winston Reid returns, the better as far as I am concerned. Will the club also sign another central defender in the January window? I would not be surprised and I am sure that a loan deal for Christopher Samba is probably on Allardyce’s wish list.
If we achieve that six point target then it will give us 19 points ongoing in to the New Year’s Day. In fact it could provide a launch pad for an upturn in results, with winnable early New Year fixtures against Fulham away, Cardiff City away and Newcastle Utd at home. Hopefully, with the assistance of Andy Carroll’s much anticipated return, the equally important return to fitmess of Winston Reid and at least one new striker added to the squad. Ideally, good business needs to be transacted early in the window so that any new acquisition(s) can have maximum positive impact, as quickly as possible, in the New Year. Although from David Gold’s recent comments, it looks like that business is going to be via loan deals, with a view to possible permanent moves in the summer. The club must get this right, lets have no honest but underwhelming journeymen strikers or veteran marksmen long past their best. We need an injection of genuine class up front to give us that missing cutting edge. It remains to be seen whether they can pull that off in the loan market and in the difficult January window. All will be revealed soon enough!
The latest name in the speculative frame is former Newcastle Utd striker Obafemi Martins. The 29 year old Nigerian international is currently plying his trade in the lucrative north American league and a loan could be possible during their close season. Many of us remember Martins as a pacy, powerful striker, with a good PL strike rate. He is still only 29, but has not been playing in the strongest of leagues. Also, there is the complicating factor that any loan will end in March 2014 to facilitate the north american pre-season. That is far from ideal and will probably mean that a second striker will need to be signed to cover his premature departure at a potentially key stage of the season.
So, on to this Saturday’s match vs Sunderland. We need another high tempo and attacking performance like the Fulham match. This is a match where the skills and technique of Morrison and Joe Cole should shine through. It is likely that Allardyce will start with Maiga up front again, with Carlton Cole figuring from the bench. In terms of the opposition, I would opine that the key danger men are Adam Johnson and Stephen Fletcher. Johnson is a technically gifted wide man, with the ability to hurt us. Up front, they have a very dangerous striker in Stephen Fletcher. Fletcher is having a bit of a fallow period in front of goal at the moment. And that could spell danger, because it seems that every misfiring striker manages to rediscovers his goal scoring touch against us. But seriously, we need to keep those two quiet, if we are going to take all three points. Sticking my neck out slightly, I feel that we can grab an invaluable, and much needed, 2-1 win over Sunderland.
Elsewhere, there have been a couple of media stories about possible January exits from West Ham. The first of these is a potential Liverpool bid for Mo Diame. The other is alleged interest from Newcastle Utd and Everton in Mark Noble. Of the two, the Liverpool move for Diame probably has slightly more substance. While I doubt very much that Mark Noble will be leaving the club anytime soon. Especially as he has just signed a new contract. Hopefully, West Ham will also soon sign Diame on an improved contract (minus that £3.5m release clause) and stop this recurring speculation during each window. We cannot afford to lose our best players, and aside from one or two fringe members of the squad, I doubt there will be many notable exits in January.
Finally, well done to Kevin Nolan and the rest of the squad for cancelling the Christmas jamboree to Dublin. The last thing the fans need to see is pictures in the Daily Mail, of boozy sessions in Dublin hot spots, at a time when only goal difference keeps out of the bottom three. All minds need to be concentrated 100% on winning football matches. That is their bread and butter, with an extremely large dollop of jam on it, and boozy sessions are an unwelcome distraction. Its about being professional and the players have made the right decision without a shadow of doubt.