The battle to not be bottom at Christmas.
There are times in a football season when talk of silver linings and trying to identify them becomes a soul-destroying task for fans and writers of upbeat match previews. This fixture would be one of those times.
WEST HAM FORM
Liverpool 4-1 West Ham (Prem)
Palace 1-0 West Ham (Prem)
West Ham 3-0 Fulham (Prem)
West Ham 0-3 Chelsea (Prem)
Norwich 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
Sunderland 1-2 Spurs (Prem)
Sunderland 3-4 Chelsea (Prem)
Villa 0-0 Sunderland (Prem)
Stoke 2-0 Sunderland (Prem)
Sunderland 1-0 Man City (Prem)
Both West Ham and Sunderland enjoyed some spectacular own-goal action last time out, with the Irons managing two at Anfield and John O’Shea stuffing one in for Spurs too. Just the kind of hilarity you need when you’re propping up the Premier League and struggling for points.
What fans of both clubs are wondering now is: 'How do we get out of this fine mess we’ve got ourselves into?' A change of manager at the Stadium of Light has brought with it glimmers of recovery, while claret-and-blue crowds are still struggling to pin down whether it’s better to play with or without a striker.
This is West Ham’s second six-pointer in less than two weeks, having fluffed their lines at fellow strugglers Crystal Palace on December 3. It's something that will, no doubt, prey on their minds.
Sunderland will come into the game fairly relaxed, knowing that a solid first 30 minutes could see the home fans turn on their team and gaffer, a pressure that will push the door open for all kinds of comedic errors. Take Guy Demel, for example. During the last three games the right-back teed up Chelsea for a penalty with an under-hit backpass and put the ball in his own net at Liverpool. Expect shouts of “GET RID!” from the home fans when Guy gets on the ball in his own box.
Lee Cattermole returns after his latest red card suspension, which could be seen as a blessing or a curse in a game like this. The one thing Poyet will need in this extremely important game is 11 men on the pitch. Stay cool, Lee… stay cool.
Talking of red cards, West Ham’s captain Kevin Nolan starts his three-match ban for seeing red at Anfield. Most Hammers fans will see this as no great loss as the Scouser’s contribution of late has been muted at best. Stewart Downing also misses out after picking up an injury during the Liverpool game.
By the way, has anyone seen Andy Carroll? Seriously, though, there were some whispers he could be rushed back for this game. As a born and bred Geordie, he’d love a pop at the Mackems. It’s highly unlikely, though.
Player to watch: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland)
Sunderland have only managed two goals in seven games on the road this season, while West Ham have averaged a goal every game at home. Poyet will need Altidore or Steven Fletcher to get their fingers out if Sunderland want something out of this game. Altidore might be the more effective player for the Uruguayan gaffer – his robust style, pace and sheer physical presence should cause problems for the centre-back pairing of James Collins and James Tomkins. These two screens show the American's last two outings. He needs to see more of the ball at Upton Park, preferably in the box rather than the middle of the park. Adam Johnson and Sebastian Larsson must get around the full-backs and whip a few balls in.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
S'land 3-0 W. Ham (Prem, Jan 13)
W. Ham 1-1 S'land (Prem, Sep 12)
W. Ham 0-3 S'land (Prem, May 11)
S'land 1-0 W. Ham (Prem, Dec 10)
S'land 1-2 W. Ham (LC, Sep 10)
Interestingly, both managers have set short-term targets for their teams. Poyet is demanding 16 points from his side before New Year’s Day, while Allardyce wants six points from the next four games. This goes against the football cliche grain of “take each game as it comes”.
Reading between the lines, it shows both men are standing around the transfer window, tapping their feet, checking their watches and seriously considering smashing the thing in. Poyet will look to re-shape his midfield when the window opens, while Allardyce will go on the hunt for a loanee striker to prop up his woefully goal-shy attack.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
A 1-1 slog no good for anyone.
West Ham vs Sunderland LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone