If you want the positive spin here it is – West Ham are on a four-game unbeaten run having kept clean sheets in three of those matches.
As any West Ham supporter will attest, that doesn’t quite encompass the experience of watching their team at the tail-end of a season. And, as they approach a tough London derby on Friday (May 5) against high-flying Tottenham Hotspur , they sit in 15th, still, mathematically, in a relegation struggle.
While that shouldn’t be too great a burden – Swansea would have to win all their matches, West Ham lose all theirs – the lack of goals remains the greatest concern.
The defence has shown that it can bounce back from early season drubbings but, if manager Slaven Bilic wanted to signal to the boardroom that this summer they must be serious about a striker, three goals in five games might just be the headline figure.
Andy Carroll’s presence for part of the Spurs match which, although a moral-boost, doesn’t automatically equate to goals. However, Bilic pointed out: “It’s not coincidence that during that period we won six out of nine, then suddenly we are without him.”
At the London Stadium, West Ham have it all to play for – secure safety, put that dismal league position to the sword, end the season with momentum – but few expect a goal-fest from the home side. The entertainment will come from the North London rivals buoyant despite their likely inability to land a title.
West Ham are likely to play an “away game” strategy – defend solidly and launch sporadic attacks on the break. They will attempt to hold in check Harry Kane just as they did Romelu Lukaku and they will expect an onslaught from a light, fast and energetic team.
Spurs should be an inspiration in some ways. For they were a middle ranking team for so long, trading on past glories but looked down upon by the mighty Arsenal. But a canny manager and some astute signings have made them title contenders – precisely the narrative West Ham were seeking when they headed to Stratford.
After two 0-0 draws, the latest away at Stoke at the weekend, the team will be looking to show some signs they can still entertain within the constraints of a tough match.
Slaven Bilic told the club’s website : “It’s a derby, and it can’t be just an ordinary game. Then, if you add to that that it’s Friday night and they need points to stay in the race for the Premier League, and we need points to climb or to make us safe, it makes it even bigger.
“We’re going to approach it in a very positive way, four games unbeaten, with three clean sheets in the last four games and knowing we are playing, for me, against the best team in the league.
“Hopefully I’m going to enjoy it, but it’s going to be a very nervous game. We will have to be on top of our game, defending even better than we did at Stoke, and taking our chances and scoring the goals. But we did it last year, beating them at home, when they were also on fire and everything.”
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