West Ham visit the Hawthorns on Saturday looking -- apparently at least -- for the point or three that will ensure Premier League football next season. But although I'm not able to work out the maths -- a secondary school education in east London will do that to a man! -- it seems the Hammers' hard work has already been done by the controversial win at home to Hull City and the opportunistic victory at Sunderland just after, and everything since has been pretty much running on the spot.
- Report: West Ham 0-1 Crystal Palace
That may be good news for manager Sam Allardyce as the Hammers look a wearied bunch currently, and we've reached that time of the year where you sense some players are eyeing the beach -- if not in Rio then at least somewhere comparable with a TV -- while the fans are already planning for next season.
Nevertheless, Allardyce will want his players to get at least 40 points this campaign and he's not likely to let up on his squad until that has been achieved. If he can claim 40 or, better still, 43 points with a win over Spurs the following week, Allardyce will be in a stronger position when he sits down to chat with the two David's (owners Sullivan and Gold) in mid-May.
The Baggies need a win desperately and they will be looking at this fixture to get the points they need to avoid the dogfight at the bottom. A loss at home or even dropped points will surely find them staring at the drop to the Championship.
It's strange how so often these games come to define a whole campaign; in previous years I've seen the Hammers turn their whole season around in matches like this -- I'm thinking a home win against Wigan with Gianfranco Zola hanging by his fingernails and a lucky win at Blackburn in Alan Curbishley's Carlos Tevez-led "Great Escape" (patent pending) season. Other times a whimper of a performance has just underlined what's been feared for the previous ten months. Under Avram Grant winnable games against Bolton and Aston Villa were frittered away in a depressing style, and what Hammer fan will ever forget the horrors of the loss to Sam Allardyce's Bolton (again) when Glenn Roeder oversaw a record 42 point relegation total.
People who know about football hate this; but these games can turn on such a small thing and often it is nothing to do with which team is the better, which has the more competent manager or whether or not one club deserves to survive more than the other. Experts refuse to believe the chaos theory of football -- that anything can and might happen without any rhyme or reason -- but when you've witnessed a team containing Billy Bonds, Trevor Brooking and Frank Lampard relegated, then you know anything is possible.
Odd to think that there are only four points between the two teams -- not much more than a lucky win and an opponent having an off day when it comes down to it -- but those totals are crucial and the pressure is all on West Bromwich Albion... at least, that's what my calculations say!