Premier League | Upton Park | Wed 26 Mar | 7:45pm
The just-about-safe derby.
If you ask Sam Allardyce, though, West Ham still aren’t quite out of the woods yet. After three defeats on the trot – the latest a 2-0 home reverse to Manchester United on Saturday – it’s fair enough that the big Dudlian isn’t resting on his laurels. “We've put ourselves in a little bit of danger again, there's no doubt about that,” declared the Hammers' chief.
WEST HAM FORM
- West Ham 0-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Stoke 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
- Everton 1-0 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 3-1 So'ton (Prem)
- West Ham 2-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Hull 2-0 WBA (Prem)
- Hull 0-2 Man City (Prem)
- Hull 3-0 S'land (FAC)
- Hull 1-4 Newcastle (Prem)
- Hull 2-1 Brighton (FAC)
In reality, however, the east Londoners are well placed to beat the drop, six points above the bottom three with six sides below them vying to be the least crap this season (because let’s face it, that’s how it is).
Victory at Upton Park here, then, would surely be enough to give Big Sam a good night’s kip. Three points would take them a point ahead of their Humberside rivals, who saw them off in the reverse fixture at the KC Stadium with a Robbie Brady penalty. Midfielder Mark Noble certainly hasn’t forgotten it. “We feel we were on the end of an abysmal decision with the penalty they got,” fumed the former Tigers loanee, “but that’s life.”
Don’t worry Mark, here’s your shot – but first West Ham will have to improve the home form that’s contributed to seven defeats in 15 games at the Boleyn Ground this season. Opponents Hull head into this one on the back of a comfortable 2-0 win over poor Pepe Mel’s West Brom. Steve Bruce’s men have only won three times on the road this season, but two of them came in their most recent outings at Cardiff and Sunderland.
When the Tigers look back on a job well done come the season’s end, they’ll know that the key to their success was seeing off the sides around them. Seven of their nine wins this campaign have come against bottom-half opposition, and in 14 games versus the top flight’s also-rans they’ve lost only three.
It’s taken them eight points above the drop zone with as many games to play. There’s still the possibility of a top-half finish should they play their cards right, but just knowing they aren’t floundering like a bunch of withering pansies at the bottom is the real victory right now.
West Ham should have James Tomkins available after the centre-back’s ankle was mangled by Marouane Fellaini, but Joey O’Brien (shoulder) and Marco Borriello (hamstring) are both still missing on milk cartons.
Bruce is likely to be without weekend goal-getter Shane Long after the Irishman picked up a knee injury against former club West Brom. Brady (groin) remains sidelined having not featured since mid-February, as are Paul McShane (ankle) and Joe Dudgeon (knee). George Boyd is still suspended for trying to gob on Joe Hart.
Key battle: Kevin Nolan vs Tom Huddlestone
In a game likely to be won or lost in the nitty-gritty midfield battle, these two are key as ever. Nolan will of course look to provide Andy Carroll and, equally, feed off the burly striker’s knockdowns (as he did twice against Swansea). Simultaneously he must help cut off Hull’s supply at the heart.
West Ham aren’t likely to let Huddlestone have things his own way – it’s when the former Tottenham orchestrator has dictated play this season that Hull have often enjoyed success. Interestingly, his passing accuracy is down at only 78% this season, way behind the likes of Mikel Arteta (92.1%), Leon Britton (91.1%) and Ki Sung-Yueng (90.9%). But unlike his safety-first peers, the former England man is far more expansive in his passing and creates more opportunities for team-mates.
They won’t necessarily be attempting to nullify each other directly on Wednesday night, but their respective qualities are surely integral to the way both of these sides tick.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Hull 1-0 W Ham (Prem, Sep 13)
- W Ham 2-1 Hull (Ch'ship, Apr 12)
- Hull 0-2 W Ham (Ch'ship, Nov 11)
- W Ham 3-0 Hull (Prem, Feb 10)
- Hull 3-3 W Ham (Prem, Nov 09)
Allardyce wasn’t best pleased with the manner of West Ham’s defeat to United at Upton Park on Saturday, even pooping the party by suggesting Wayne Rooney’s long-range missile shouldn’t have counted. “It was such a wonderful goal,” admitted Allardyce, “but it was a bit of sickener. I thought it was a blatant foul on James Tomkins, who is easily going to head the ball away."
Adversary Bruce, meanwhile, believes a win here would all but confirm the Tigers’ safety this season. “I've said all along that I thought 10 wins would be enough,” said the Hull chief.
“Whatever it takes, we have to see it through, but if we can get to 10 wins with seven or eight games to play it means other teams have got to maybe win four and draw a couple, which is very difficult.”
TIPS & TRENDS
Facts and figures
- West Ham were unbeaten at home against bottom-half finishers last season (W6 D4 L0) and are unbeaten hosting the current bottom-half this term (W4 D3 L0).
- 7 of West Ham’s last 10 home games against bottom-half teams have had fewer than 3 goals.
- 7 of Hull’s last 8 away matches have had no more than 2 goals.
- West Ham have won all 3 of their home games against promoted teams since the start of last season by at least 2 clear goals.
Best Bet: West Ham @ 2.30
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Don’t expect the nets to ripple freely – if at all. These sides are two of only four teams (the others being Norwich and Crystal Palace) not to average at least 2.5 goals per game this season. Only Chelsea boast more clean sheets than West Ham, and only five sides have conceded fewer goals than Hull. 1-1.