West Ham must use rest of the season to show they can replicate 2015/16

Fears of relegation are just a faint nightmare for West Ham now. Tucked up for the final few weeks of winter in the cosy comfort of midtable, Slaven Bilic is no longer under pressure, the Dimitri Payet storm has passed and everything is, for once, relatively calm. Closer to seventh-placed Everton than the relegation zone, a troubling start to the season has waned into irrelevance and will have been forgotten by many around the club.

Maybe, though, that dreadful start to the season should not so easily slip from memory. It still has relevance, it could even be a warning for future troubles.

However, recent form should still be applauded. The silliness with Payet could have served as a distraction, but West Ham continued along their merry way on the pitch and are deservedly in the top half of the table. They have won six out of nine in the league, but that does not tell the full story, however. West Ham have held a reputation for being a team that often trouble the stronger sides, even when they are in a period of relative weakness. Two drubbings at the hands of Manchester City, defeat to Manchester United and a 5-1 loss to Arsenal have shown quite the opposite, though.

West Ham have performed as they should have done this season. Finishing in midtable will be a decent outcome – particularly after their poor start – yet this is a little underwhelming. Good patches of form are being undermined by some feeble performances against the stronger sides, after all. Take their recent run, for example, they have comfortably defeated Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough and Southampton, but they have also been thumped twice by Manchester City in the FA Cup and Premier League. While losing to Manchester City is hardly unexpected, the nature of the defeats means they will be remembered.

Expectations were too high after the shock Europa League qualification of last season, finishing somewhere between eighth and twelfth would be what most predicted for the Irons this season. It has been far from a disaster, then, yet each set of positive results have been punctuated by a severe disappointment, some of which bordered on humiliation. Such defeats have longer-term effects on a side and suggest either a huge tactical mistake or mental fragility.

The move to the London Stadium has been a convenient excuse for the Hammers at points. It may have had an impact, albeit minimal, but there are greater weaknesses in Bilic’s side this campaign. Few players have performed to quite the same levels as last term and his team selections have at times been curious. Ultimately, though, he deserves credit for turning it around when he looked a poor result away from the sack in late 2016.

Woes against the top six and their abysmal start to this season have restricted the positivity for West Ham. After 24 matches they are eight points worse off than a year ago, they have conceded 13 more goals and lost six more matches. Last season was a surprise, but they have certainly taken a step backwards in 2016/17. Too many performances have been limp and, while victories like the one over Southampton are good, the excitement of upsetting the odds has been missing.

West Ham are doing okay, but that is as far as it goes. Exceeding expectations would take a monumental effort to end the season and they have not even treated their fans to matches like the 3-3 with Arsenal or victory against Spurs of last time out. Making do, rather than impressing, West Ham must use the rest of this season to prove last season was no fluke.