West Ham United: The Great Escape?

20th December 2010. Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool side gain a much needed three points to send them 9th in the league table, just one win away from fourth spot. Goals from Glen Johnson, Dirk Kuyt and a penalty from Maxi mean an easy win over West Ham is achieved at Anfield.

This was an easy win over a side struggling both defensively and offensively. In what was West Ham’s 14th game of the season, Avram Grant’s side succumbed to their seventh defeat of the season, with just one win recorded.
The fans, and many pundits, bemoaned the lack of passion, the lack of drive. Most simply saw a team that wasn’t good enough. Grant blamed injuries for the defeat, with Manuel Da Costa, Jack Collison, Thomas Hitzlsperger and, most importantly of all, Scott Parker, all out through injury.
West Ham, just five days before Christmas, were bottom of the Premier League, five points away from safety. They were favourites for relegation. They were dead and buried.
And then came the turnaround.
Well, kind of. A 3-1 win against Wigan set The Hammers on their way and, while three games without a win followed, victories against Fulham and Wolves saw Grant’s side rise to 15th in the table, one point above the relegation zone.
Another run of three games without a win meant that, by the beginning of February, the East London club were back at the foot of the table, two points away from 17th placed Birmingham.
The January transfer window, though, saw Wayne Bridge, Robbie Keane, Gary O’Neil and Demba Ba all join the club, with the latter signing from German club Hoffenheim for £500,000.
Ba has scored four goals in three Premier League starts, giving the team a much needed threat when going forward. He’s lifted the mood around Upton Park with his ability to run at defenders, while he’s also capable of acting as a poacher – finishing off attacks that Carlton Cole would usually spoil with great ease.
Hitzlsperger, who signed for West Ham in the summer but only recently regained fitness after a thigh injury, has performed exceptionally well for his new side, starting against Liverpool and Stoke alongside Scott Parker and Mark Noble.
The German has made two assists in two games (as well as a smashing goal against Stoke in a comfortable 3-0 win) and, just like his midfield partners, is a hard-working, almost box-to-box midfielder. His return to the side will almost feel like a new signing for Grant and Hammers fans alike and, as Parker continues to put in Man-of-the-match performances every week, the immediate future, suddenly, doesn’t look so bleak for West Ham.
Questions still remain, however, over whether West Ham can steer clear of relegation for the second season in a row. The Irons finished 17th last season, just five points above relegated Burnley, and many fans were hoping for a not-so-stressful season.
At the moment, they must be pretty content. West Ham haven’t lost in the Premier League since the 6th of February (a 1-0 home defeat to Birmingham City) and, in 2011, they’ve only surrendered to three League defeats: Newcastle, Arsenal and Birmingham.
The form table places West Ham in fourth, behind Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, while the sides around them in the table are seriously struggling. Blackburn have lost their last five games while Blackpool have only won one in six, as have West Brom and Wigan.
West Ham’s next six Premier League fixtures don’t bode well, with Tottenham, Manchester United, Bolton, Chelsea and Manchester City all coming up by the beginning of May, but their last three fixtures are a little more positive, with fellow strugglers Blackburn and Wigan the opponents before a home game against Sunderland brings the season to a close.
Whether West Ham stay up this season is almost impossible to predict given that they’ve seriously struggled against the top-half sides, who they face in the coming weeks, this season. The return of Hitzlsperger and the signing of Ba means that West Ham now have a good, solid core, with Parker, Noble and O’Neil all excellent going forward, while Upson, Jacobsen and Da Costa add some much needed experience at the back. Their recent results, as well as the inability of the sides near the bottom to establish any sort of positive run, suggest that Upton Park will play host to Premier League football next season.
This article originally appeared on sports website Sports Haze, which is now unfortunately defunct.

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