Have West Ham turned a corner? Or is the fact that they could have been beaten by both Hull City and Burnley cause for some serious concern?
After an obscene run of fixtures taking in Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, it’s no surprise that the Hammers picked up only two points from those four games.
They were lucky, in many ways. Before that run of fixtures, you could see the panic: the stadium move has been nigh-on disastrous, the team hasn’t been performing close to the expectations set by an excellent season last time, and Slaven Bilic spent much of the Autumn chopping and changing. It’s also a concern that the Hammers don’t have a striker. Both of those fairly vital wins over the last two games have come thanks to Mark Noble goals.
He might be West Ham through and through, and you might be happy to rely on him for many things: but relying on Mark Noble to score your winning goals isn’t really a good position in which to find yourself, penalties though they were.
But the biggest concern for West Ham now is continuing to build on whatever momentum they’ve accrued over the last three games unbeaten.
Before losing to Everton just before Halloween, the Hammers hadn’t lost a game in any competition in over a month. Now, unbeaten in three, they face Swansea City in a similar situation. Because a defeat wouldn’t just be a loss to a team below them in the table (a particularly terrible defeat when you’re looking over your shoulder), but it would also be a defeat that leads into three very tough games where you’d expect a team in West Ham’s position to come away with precisely nothing.
Those games are at home to both Manchester clubs and away to Leicester City.
The interesting thing is that all three of those games look less difficult right now than they might otherwise have been. City are good away from home, but their defence is suspect. United are stuttering, and even if they are now coming good, they still need to prove it. Leicester are right in a relegation battle.
But Leicester are yet to lose at home, and when it comes to the other two games, West Ham’s home form can’t really be relied upon. And so we’re right back to these games being incredibly difficult for the Hammers.
And that’s why victory over Swansea is crucial: because momentum matters. It’s not just the fact that it would be a defeat that brings West Ham back into a relegation battle in the short term. It’s the fact that over the long term, a failure to build momentum for any more than just a month before falling back into a rut is relegation form.
It’s not the short term that matters for West Ham, it’s the long term. Because their Premier League status will probably be preserved comfortably – but only if they don’t stutter their way through the season for very much longer. Those victories over Hull and Burnley look great in the short term – but in the long term, will we look back and realise that winning so narrowly against such poor teams was an indication of something much more sinister?