In a season full of relegation six pointers, another one is set to be played at Upton Park on Tuesday. These two sides sit level on 25 points just two points above the relegation zone. A defeat for either side could see them slip into the drop zone. Both managers have been under pressure recently as they remain the only two in the bottom seven to keep their jobs. It’s set to be a tight affair as neither team will want to give anything away, in these matches it’s crucial to avoid defeat, while attempting to grab a win yourself. It’s matches like these that will decide which teams go down come the end of the season.
West Ham were seen to be a club in crisis only a month ago as they continued to lose crucial league matches, while being embarrassed in both competitions didn’t help the mood around the club either. There were strong calls for Sam Allardyce to lose his jobs both from the fans and the media, but the manager showed his experience and has since come out of the pressure with back to back league victories keeping two clean sheets in the process. Both wins came against teams still in the relegation battle which shows West Ham’s abilities to win matches against league rivals. They’ll have to show a similar resolve on Tuesday.
Chris Hughton has been under intense pressure for the majority of the season, but his fighting spirit has led Norwich to vital results at crucial times. Norwich’s main issue has been their lack of goals as only one side has scored less than them this season, despite the club spending big money on the signings of Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel. They have only lost twice in the last six matches which suggests the club is starting to become hard to beat. They managed to hold Manchester City to a 0-0 draw at the weekend which will boost the squad as not many club’s are able to keep a clean sheet against City. It’s slightly worrying that they have only won once in the last six games which emphasises their issues in the final third, scoring only three times in this period.
In the earlier fixture between the two this season, Norwich came out on top with a 3-1 victory which was pivotal as many considered a failure to win would have cost Hughton his job. Ravel Morrison opened the scoring for West Ham but second half goals from Hooper, Robert Snodgrass and Leroy Fer led the Canaries to victory. In the corresponding match last season, West Ham triumphed 2-1 with Mark Noble and Joey O’Brien finding the net, while Russell Martin scored a late consolation.
With their win at Aston Villa, West Ham secured their first back-to-back Premier League victory since March 2011. This is important as it will help the squad overcome the psychological barrier that appears when going into a match after a win.
Norwich have kept three clean sheets in their last four games. This highlights that the squad is starting to become more consistent. If they manage to maintain their strong base, they will have a strong chance of staying in the league.
In recent weeks, Kevin Nolan has started to return to the goalscoring form that we expect from him with four goals in his last two matches. His season has been stuttering since August, but it now appears to have really kicked on. It’s no coincidence that Andy Carroll’s return to the side has coincided with the midfielder’s return to form. Nolan did show he could do it without Carroll at the weekend as the Geordie missed the match through suspension. He has his six goals to his name to date, and he will be hoping to hit double figures again. His shooting accuracy (45%) and chance conversion (19%) have improved considerably over the past few weeks which highlights his improvement in form. The match on Tuesday will be tight and could be decided by a single goal. As West Ham’s main goal threat, Nolan carries a lot of expectations to perform and score what could prove to be a crucial goal in their survival battle.
The expectation in Norwich was high at the start of the season after their splurge in the transfer market, but the side has failed to live to the hype. Gary Hooper has been one of the better signings, yet he will be slightly disappointed with his goal tally of only five. He was scoring for fun for Celtic, but the Premier League is tougher and he will have to be more clinical in front of goal, especially at a side like Norwich as chances are limited at the best of times. He has missed five of his seven clear cut chances which is poor. Hooper needs to take clear chances that come his way, if he starts to in the coming weeks, it could see Norwich climb the table. He is a striker who can score goals from anywhere on the pitch. This will cause West Ham lots of problems as he could pop up anywhere in the final third and hit the target.
Mo Diame, Ricardo Vaz Te, Joe Cole and Joey O’Brien are all set to miss this match, while the date of their returns are still not clear. Winston Reid could make his first start since returning from injury. This will be a huge boost for West Ham who have struggled defensively in recent months, but two consecutive clean sheets suggest they have turned a corner.
Jonas Gutierrez, Robert Snodgrass and Johan Elmander are all struggling with knocks so are doubts for Tuesday. Ryan Bennett could return at Upton Park, while Michael Turner, Jonny Howson and Elliott Bennett are all likely to miss the trip to the capital. Chris Hughton could opt for a 4-4-2 at West Ham to attack their opposition more after playing defensively against Manchester City.
I think it’s going to be a draw on Tuesday. West Ham have struggled to post back to back wins in the Premier League, so three consecutive wins will be extremely difficult, but they won’t get a better opportunity. Norwich will go to Upton Park with confidence after holding high flying Manchester City. Both sides have been defensively strong lately which could suggest a 0-0 draw is on the cards.