I’m back to feeling pretty damn nervous about each match now. Saints have remembered their great form and I’m even looking below us with trepidation, fearing dropping out of the top two.
We’re entering the stage of the season when a failure to take chances can result in severe punishment; teams hovering safely above the relegation zone can drop into trouble; clubs who have been in the top six all season could drop out and miss the play-offs; and a team that have been in the top two all season could miss out on automatic promotion and reluctantly buy a ticket for the play-off lottery!
It’s easy to focus on the negative what-ifs but the facts still point to us earning automatic promotion. We’re second, with two games in hand over Saints and one over Reading, and if we win those games then we are top of the league. Not too much to be unhappy about on the face of it.
But I’m a West Ham fan, and experience has changed the way my mind works when it comes to football: I expect to go through hell on the hunt for glory!
Last weekend’s failure to beat Palace brought an end to our impressive form and left us asking questions of Allardyce’s team selection. It was the first time we had named an unchanged starting 11 for the first time since November and, typically, it backfired. Whether the squad were fatigued or not, we didn’t perform as well as we should have done and the same abject performance against Cardiff will undoubtedly be punished with a loss.
On the first day of the season we failed to live up to the hype and saw a nut-crunching late Cardiff goal bring us back down to earth. It was unlucky but a clear sign of how this season could pan out if we weren’t clinical enough and at the moment that sentiment has never been truer.
A win today is essential and, although our performances can be unpredictable, if we play as well as we know we can then I can see us getting the result. Big Sam will surely get the players fired-up remembering how sickening the opening day loss was.
Cardiff have some good players and can play some great stuff. Their loss to Liverpool last weekend was terribly unlucky (and brought back some 2006 FA Cup memories) but it could work in our favour. They played 120 gruelling minutes against the scousers, compared to our match against Palace where we seemingly didn’t break too much of a sweat!
Nolan is back from suspension so he’ll either be full of enthusiastic energy or a few pounds heavier and will continue to lump around in midfield, scoring the odd goal. We’re all pretty sure that he’ll be a starter so I hope his three-match break has allowed him to remember how to be a good player as well as a good captain! Nolan’s return further shortens the chances for Henri Lansbury, who’s continued outfield absence has been very puzzling. He had another great game for the England U-21s –including an absolutely astonishing goal. I hope we can see more him in our midfield before the end of the season.
Baldock’s stint against Palace served as a reminder of his quality. He seemed to have been forgotten about for a long period before last weekend but he came on and almost won us an unlikely three points. I’d love to see him start but I’d imagine Allardyce will plump for Cole as a lone striker, which could be effective, but would be a disappointment.
We’ll have to play well to get a win today and, if our plan A isn’t working, I hope Sam doesn’t wait too long to change to a plan B. If Baldock had been on the pitch for ten minutes longer last weekend you sense he would have made the breakthrough.
The BBC are showing the match live, which proves they aren’t totally rubbish! I look forward to a couple of hours of them not harping on about the bloody Olympics.
Come on you Irons!