Tottenham v West Ham: Irons bid to escape drop zone at White Hart Lane
Fresh faces have given the Hammers a glimpse of daylight, and a chance to jump five places in the Premier League in today’s early kick-off
AVRAM Grant and his West Ham squad have been smarting for the last week after losing their FA Cup quarter-final at Stoke, which follows heartbreak in the Carling Cup semi-final against Birmingham in January.
To be one game from Wembley in two competitions and miss out in both is certainly cause for dismay.
However, memorable moments in football history suggest that the Hammers may have dodged a bullet when their cup campaign came to an end at the Britannia Stadium last Sunday.
Taking part in the FA Cup Final has never guaranteed survival in the Premier League, and it is easy to think of teams who have had their magical day out at Wembley – and immediately waved goodbye to the top flight.
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Brighton reached the final and were relegated in 1983, and Bryan Robson’s Middlesbrough followed suit in 1997. Fast forward 13 years and last season’s beaten finalists, Portsmouth, were already relegated when they shocked Spurs in the semi-final.
That Pompey side were, of course, managed by Grant, who has had a strangely similar campaign in his latest job at Upton Park.
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The Irons may have enjoyed their cup runs but the spectre of relegation has loomed over the club ever since the season kicked off in August.
Less than a month ago, on February 25, co-owner David Sullivan said: “Being realistic, [the chance of surviving] is less than 50-50. I actually think a lot of the fans are almost accepting we’re going to be relegated.”
That followed a home defeat by Birmingham and a 3-3 draw at West Bromwich Albion – two of West Ham’s biggest rivals at the bottom end of the table.
However, since then, the Irons’ prospects have improved immeasurably, thanks to back-to-back league wins over Liverpool (3-1) and Stoke (3-0).
Suddenly West Ham can see daylight and, should they record the double over Spurs by beating them in the early kick-off today, Grant’s side would jump five places up the league to 13th, ahead of Aston Villa.
The change in fortunes is easily attributable to fresh faces in the line-up – new signings and players who have returned from injury.
Striker Demba Ba has had an immediate impact since his arrival from German outfit Hoffenheim in January, netting four goals in his last four games.
Midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger has added two goals in four games since recovering from an eight-month injury layoff, and Gary O’Neil has arrived from Middlesbrough.
More established stars have also stepped up to the plate, and Carlton Cole has scored four in his last five matches, while Frederic Piquionne scored his ninth goal of the campaign in the 2-1 defeat to Stoke on Sunday.
In fact, West Ham have scored 21 times in their last eight matches, and the physical power of Ba, Cole and Piquionne gave Liverpool’s back line a torrid time at the end of February.
Piquionne, who scored against Spurs in last season’s cup semi-final and then struck the winner in the 1-0 win at Upton Park in September, may be unavailable this time due to injury.
That could have opened the door for Robbie Keane but, like Wolves’ Jamie O’Hara recently, the Spurs loanee is ineligible to face his parent club.
The verdict: West Ham are looking more dangerous than they have done for a while – the proof being that is has taken this long to mention the talismanic Scott Parker!
It is that time of the season when the teams at the bottom can be just as dangerous as the ones at the top, and the Hammers’ front line is physically imposing.
However, that is nothing new in the Premier League, and there are goals to be had against West Ham. The match-up between Aaron Lennon and Wayne Bridge could be particularly fruitful.
Prediction: Spurs 2 West Ham 1