Every Premier League season there always seems to be one side that initially takes everyone by surprise with a series of impressive performances to lift them to unprecedented heights in the league, before inevitably fading into mid-table mediocrity – or worse – once the top flight settles into its regular rhythm.
In the 2011/12 campaign Wolverhampton Wanderers were third and unbeaten at the start of September, but were bottom and relegated by the time the last whistle was blown in May, while three seasons previously Hull City managed to survive by the skin of their teeth in 17th place on the final day despite being joint-top of the league as late as October.
Before last weekend’s fixtures, West Ham United were considered to be prime candidates for the role of ‘early-season surprise package who eventually hit a terrible run of form and end up forgotten in mid-table’. After their victory against Manchester City at Upton Park took them to fourth place at the end of October – just one point off the league champions in third – the Hammers went on a three-match winless run. Their defeat to Everton on November 22nd saw them slip to sixth place, and many observers could have been forgiven for thinking that the London side’s heady days were over, with a gradual slide further down the table to be expected.
With this in mind, Sam Allardyce’s side’s 1-0 triumph over Newcastle United on Saturday could be the most important win of their season. Not only was it a hard-fought victory over a side who had themselves been enjoying something of a resurgence of late, it also crucially ensured that their winless streak was nothing but a mini-slump. A defeat would have seen the Hammers drop to ninth; by securing a deserved three points instead, they remain in fifth – above Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool – and just one point behind Manchester United in the final Champions League spot.
A boost to the team’s morale is exactly what was needed before what on paper looks like a kind run of fixtures before the Boxing Day visit to Chelsea. More than a third of the season has now gone, and it is perhaps time for West Ham to be considered as a genuine threat who have what it takes to last the distance. Deeply unpopular and perilously close to the sack last season, Sam Allardyce’s transformation into the hero of Upton Park this campaign has been remarkable, and has largely been attributed to a subtle yet significant tweak in his tactical approach to the game and a number of astute signings.
While the conventional narrative regarding over-achieving underdogs in the Premier League is that their seasons are bound to fall apart at some point, West Ham’s resilience to grind out a crucial victory against Newcastle at a point when things were looking like they were about to turn sour suggests that they might be the team to tear up the script.
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