West Ham will be on their best behaviour for the rest of the season because there’s European football as an incentive.
The east Londoners are close to the top of the Fair Play table allowing them back-door entry into the Europa League.
While other clubs have shied away from this international trophy – because of the drain on time and players – manager Sam Allardyce has made little secret of his desire to get his team abroad so they can be exposed to different footballing challenges.
However, the dilemma remains – to dive into a tackle or not – because West Ham’s key priority is 50 points, an aspiration dented by the 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa on Saturday. The Irons play struggling Everton in the last home match of the season on Saturday.
The manager said: “I am not going to look at it in that way, whether we are going to get any less cautions or more than Everton. We just want to go out and play them to beat them, that’s the only thing we will be looking at.
“I am not going to start saying to the players, watch what you do, don’t get cautioned because we might not finish number one for European fair play place. It will be all about going out there, playing our best and trying to win. And if we do that the right way, hopefully we are still in the position for the fair play place.
“Our position is to finish with 50 points or better and finish in the top half where we have been all season. It would be very disappointing to me if we don’t manage that.
“I know we have got more points than we have ever got since promotion - we have one more point than in year one back in the Barclays Premier League - but we have to get to the 50 point mark and stay in the top half of the table.”
Lack of a cutting edge was taking its toll, said Allardyce.
He said: “We can’t score a goal at the minute from open play, we’ve gone so long, I can’t remember the last one, it’s that long ago. The last goals we have scored were with Mark Noble from the penalty spot and Aaron Cresswell from a free kick. It’s been a long time since we scored from open play.
“We have to know, that when we play Everton on Saturday, if we don’t keep a clean sheet, it’s unlikely we are going to win because we are struggling to score goals at the minute, so the need for to go back to being more clinical as well as keeping a clean sheet is vital.”
Big Sam’s wish for the club may become irrelevant. According to reports, and in a twist to the narrative of 2015, he may be leaving – on his own terms.
He has apparently rejected overtures from the West Ham board to begin talks about next season after the club’s much-publicised attempts to land his successor have been frustrated.
West Ham v Everton, Sat, 3pm