After a nightmare start to the Premier League season, it looked like things were beginning to fall into place for West Ham.
The Hammers were sat in the relegation places not long ago after managing just one win from their opening six games and conceding 16 goals in the process.
It was a far cry from the side that managed shock wins against the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and both Manchester clubs on their way to seventh place last season. Recently, though, they have improved after a hard-fought 1-1 draw at home to Middlesbrough ended a run of four consecutive losses and started a spell which has seen the Hammers lose only one of their last five.
Despite the upturn in fortunes however, Slaven Bilic’s side sit in 17th place – just one point above the relegation zone – ahead of a harrowing set of fixtures after the international break.
West Ham travel to Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and leaders Liverpool over the next month as well as playing host to an Arsenal side enjoying a 16-match unbeaten run in all competitions.
Normally when a side faces such a tough run of matches they are given a period of grace, with any points earned seen as a bonus. But judging by how the season has gone so far, Bilic may have already used up his good fortune.
There is no doubt the Croatian deserved time to turn things around at the London Stadium even as he emerged as a contender for the first sacking of the season as a result of his side’s dismal run.
He also deserves credit for partially achieving that after a change to a three-man defence and the introduction of Pedro Obiang in the middle improved performances.
It should be noted, however, that there is a very real possibility that West Ham will be in the relegation zone should they fail to grab points in the next few weeks – something which fans at the start of the season would struggle to believe. In the bottom three in December would have been unthinkable during the summer transfer window.
After all, this is a side with one of the league’s best players in Dimitri Payet as well as the goalscoring ability of Michail Antonio. While they have no doubt struggled with injuries, there is no way a club of West Ham’s stature should be in a relegation fight.
You could argue that, for all his hard work last season, Bilic has been given his reprieve for heavy losses at Watford, West Brom and Southampton and now needs to get results against the big boys to repay that faith.
Should the worst happen and West Ham lose all of their next four games, they would be incredibly fortunate not to be in the bottom three and the men and women upstairs will have a decision to make.
Spirits would be at an all-time low ahead of what would become three crucial games against Burnley, Hull and Swansea over the holiday period. Do they stick with the man who did so well last season but can’t inspire performances this time around, or do they approach somebody else to keep them in the league?
The West Ham board aren’t exactly known for being sentimental when firing a manager – Sam Allardyce’s contract was allowed to run down whilst they searched for a new man, despite the former England manager taking the Hammers from the Championship to a solid mid-table Premiership side.
He was dismissed as his style of football wasn’t moving the club forward, and Bilic will meet the same fate if he doesn’t get results. That’s why he needs his side to come back with a bang and inspire some big performances against the teams at the top.
If he doesn’t, West Ham’s nightmare may just be beginning.