A month ago, West Ham fell into the relegation zone after a very poor showing against Newcastle in a 3-1 defeat at Upton Park. Many fans wanted to see Sam Allardyce lose his job after being embarrassed in both cup competitions and the Hammers looked like they were falling quickly into the Championship. He maintained that the club would survive once injured players returned to fitness, but this was ridiculed by many supporters who saw it as an excuse. Now, the club from East London are sitting in the top half as the division’s form side. Not many saw this coming from a team who hadn’t managed back to back league wins since March 2011 before this month.
The turning point arrived at the end of January when they drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, becoming the second team to take anything away from Chelsea this season. Jose Mourinho may have slated the tactics used by West Ham, but ‘a 19th century’ approach was needed. The point was morale-boosting for the squad and fans alike, while the clean sheet saw the Hammers return to their best defensively. Before the Chelsea match, they had conceded 17 goals in their last five matches in all competitions. Allardyce’s sides have always been known for the strong base, so it was crucial West Ham rediscovered that and they have done that. The clean sheet at Chelsea was the first of four straight clean sheets as key players returned to the Hammers defence.
Nobody has symbolised the turnaround at Upton Park more than captain Kevin Nolan. He was in awful form in the Christmas period, picking up two red cards which led to his side dropping points, however, he has been superb for the Irons in February, scoring five times and assisting once. The former Newcastle player had only scored twice before this month. He could be in line for the player of the month award as his performances have won the club matches on their own; his back-to-back braces set up the first two wins. His form in the first half of the season raised doubts about whether he can still perform at this level, but he has showed his class in the last four matches.
The return of their impressive defence has played a vital role in the club’s rise up the table. In January, they had so many injuries at the back that they had to play Matt Taylor at right back, a position he hadn’t played in before. This showed the struggles Allardyce faced during his side’s poor run of form. Adrian has been superb since claiming the number one spot. He became the first opposition goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet at Chelsea this season, despite facing a barrage of shots. He added a further three clean sheets in February, making several key stops in the process. The Spanish goalkeeper certainly laid the platform for the club to climb the table.
West Ham are now seven points clear of the drop zone, which gives the club breathing space. They are also three wins away from the magic 40 points mark, a target they’ll try to reach soon to eradicate any lingering relegation doubts. The Hammers are now leading the mini league that is being played out between eleven teams, but they remain eight points below Southampton who are directly above them. A top ten finish would constitute a fantastic season for West Ham given their mid-season crisis and it’s very achievable if they maintain their excellent defensive record, while Andy Carroll is going to be coming back into the side after his suspension, the Hammers are set up for a fantastic end to the season.