Top Flight London: West Ham United – Can the Hammers break Manchester City hearts?

By Nikki Davidson. Despite their position in the league table being secure, West Ham will play a pivotal role in the title race on the final day of the season. It's been a whirlwind season for Sam Allardyce's Hammers who are destined for a mid-table finish now, in spite of picking up just 40 points this season with one game left to play. In this blog, Nikki Davidson reflects on West Ham's season as a whole and looks forward to their future life at the Olympic Stadium.

How about a stat? West Ham have not lost on the last day of the season since 2004.

It is not likely, however, that City will lose at home to them, particularly when you consider that City have beaten West Ham by a three-match aggregate score of 12-1 this season, including a 6-0 drubbing the last time West Ham ventured into the Etihad. And for City to win the title, even a draw will suffice.

Sam Allardyce cupped his ear to the home crowd after they turned on his side at the final whistle against Hull City

Sam Allardyce cupped his ear to the home crowd after they turned on his side at the final whistle against Hull City

West Ham experienced a difficult first half of the season, including an embarrassing 5-0 defeat in the FA Cup by Nottingham Forest, but Sam Allardyce managed to secure safety for his side after a good run in February in which they won four games. With 14 clean sheets, West Ham have the fifth strongest defence in the league this season, and three of the teams above them are part of the top four. They have had though, only one worse Premier League campaign, in 2006-2007, with 21 defeats (they have 19 this season, so far). Supporters grow increasingly disgruntled, booing even after the side’s win against Hull in March, and criticising Allardyce following the 1-0 defeat at West Brom in April – their fourth straight loss – calling for him to be sacked because of his ‘negative tactics’.

The statistics back them up. With an average of only 1.1 goals scored per match, Big Sam himself has admitted that he employed what José Mourinho refers to as a more primitive form of the game – Mourinho claimed West Ham played ‘little or no football at all’ in their defensive display against Chelsea at the Bridge. Tellingly, a survey of over 12,000 West Ham fans saw nearly 78 per cent of them vote in favour of Allardyce’s removal post-season, with even the slightly more entertaining win over Spurs last week (for the second time this season) not enough to mollify them. Apparently, the club’s owners, Davids Gold and Sullivan, are taking these survey results under consideration (as they had said they would), if the rumours of Allardyce being sacked after Sunday’s game are to be believed.

The Hammers lost 6-0 at the Etihad Stadium in the Capital One Cup semi-final first-leg  in January

The Hammers lost 6-0 at the Etihad Stadium in the Capital One Cup semi-final first-leg in January

Were he to be dismissed, who would be a good replacement for Allardyce? Maybe an exchange with QPR for Harry Redknapp? Among those managers out of work are Malky Mackay and Steve Clarke, as well as West Ham legend Paulo di Canio, with plenty of others expected to be available in the summer. If Allardyce does end up staying, is this an issue he can rectify with transfers? Would he need to establish a new brand of football – or would he need to establish a brand of football at all? He must do business of a certain calibre to bring class and flair back to Upton Park and excite the fans, getting them back on board.

West Ham will move to the Olympic Stadium in 2016 on a 99- year lease (signed in March 2013), which will either help or hurt the situation. With a capacity of 54,000, they will have the fifth-largest crowd in the Premier League, and they will need a style of football that reflects that, rather than one you might typically (or stereotypically) find in the lower echelons (or earlier years) of English football.

They will certainly have to change the way they play, and somehow attract a world-beater or two, or at the very least, several attractive signings, all with the right man in charge.

West Ham have agreed a 99-year lease to move into the Olympic Stadium

West Ham have agreed a 99-year lease to move into the Olympic Stadium

Even if the club were to achieve those objectives, can West Ham guarantee another 20,000 or so fans to fill the Olympic Stadium, seeing as they only just fill their current 35,000 seater ground? Supporters have already expressed concern over how what appears to be a large gap between the tiers will affect the atmosphere. There is also the contingent understandably displeased with the move away from Upton Park and West Ham’s heritage, who may not want to attend matches at the Olympic Stadium, and could be put off by the prospect of empty seats as their club finds itself in a stadium too big for its needs.

However, although it may be an initial challenge to fill the stadium, a move like this can have significant financial benefits for West Ham, perhaps attracting all sorts of investments in the club, and even rocketing them past their immediate competitors in the league. If this does transpire, it may herald considerable changes to the culture and environment of the West Ham of old – their identity, if you will – which  supporters may find themselves forced to embrace in exchange for the successes they are liable to witness.

How do you think West Ham will get on at the Olympic Stadium? Will Allardyce still be there next season? What are the chances of West Ham pulling off a shock at the Etihad?

Read the rest of Nikki’s Top Flight London series here!

Follow @NikkiDcfc

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