West Ham’s tally of 27 points from 15 games is their best return in the top flight for 31 years and Sam Allardyce will be hoping they can build on that against a lowly Sunderland on Saturday.
The Hammers have only lost one of their last nine league games and they travel to the North East aiming for a fourth in a row. They followed up a tight 1-0 win over Newcastle by coming back from behind to beat both West Brom and Swansea, the latter of which Allardyce branded his side’s most complete performance of the campaign.
It won’t be easy at the Stadium of Light, though, as Sunderland have only lost four games this season – the same as West Ham – and have held both Chelsea and Liverpool. However Gus Poyet’s outfit have only won twice and against the attacking prowess of the Hammers they will need to ensure their defence is at its best.
Allardyce will be a very happy man this weekend as he has a near-on fully-fit squad to choose from. Mark Noble is the only absentee, sidelined with an achilles problem, but Diafra Sakho should be ready to return to the starting XI to partner Andy Carroll.
Young midfielder Diego Poyet is also expected to be in the Hammers squad after returning from his short loan spell at Huddersfield and the manager has hinted he will feature against his father’s Sunderland, most likely as a substitute.
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The Black Cats will be boosted by the return of Steven Fletcher, who has overcome a back injury that restricted him to the bench against Liverpool, while Sebastian Coates is also available again. Emanuele Giaccherini and Billy Jones are not yet fit to return for the home side.
EARLY GOAL NEEDED
West Ham are the third highest scorers in the Premier League this season, behind only Chelsea and Manchester City, but even the former couldn’t find a way through Sunderland’s back line.
If West Ham get out of the blocks quickly and score an early goal, half of the battle will be won. Sunderland will be organised and hard to break down so Carroll could play a major role in unlocking the defence with his aerial prowess as they may be forced to rely on deliveries into the box.
The Wearsider’s have been involved in five goalless draws this season – more than any other side – and have struggled to find the net. They have failed to score in seven of their last 11 games, and three of their last four – they are the third lowest scorers in the division, behind Burnley and Aston Villa.
In contrast, the Hammers have scored in all of their away matches this season and have twice as many headed goals as any other side (12). It is likely they will find a break through and if they do Sunderland will have to come out and attack, which could play into West Ham’s hands.
The return of Fletcher could be vital for the home side and if he manages to find the net West Ham could be really up against it. The striker has four goals in ten appearances thus far but, along with Connor Wickham, has not been in the best of form.
West Ham have only managed three clean sheets all season, though, so Sunderland might fancy their chances of nicking a goal and then parking the bus – something we know they can do to great effect.
However, against this high-scoring, versatile Hammers side it probably wouldn’t be the wisest of tactics…
WEST HAM: PREDICTED XI
Adrian, Jenkinson, Reid, Tomkins, Cresswell; Song, Kouyate, Nolan, Downing; Sakho, Carroll.
Sunderland 1-2 West Ham