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Aug 28, 2014

Saints a mirror visit for West Ham

Southampton are the visitors to Upton Park next, and this is something of an intriguing fixture with West Ham manager Sam Allardyce struggling to decide his best eleven while the Saints try to find a new one.

Adding to the fascination for this column is a family connection that sees this blogger's son living just a stone's throw from St. Mary's, and regular visits to the city over the past four or five seasons have meant that watching the re-birth of Southampton from their League One days has become something of a secondary hobby to the concerns of the Hammers.

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Also, West Ham and the Saints got promoted from the Championship together in 2012 in a tight race that saw both neck and neck for most of that campaign; there is also a feeling that the immediate future of the two clubs are inextricably linked. The difficulties that Southampton suffered when they moved from their homely ground at the Dell to the new build at St. Mary's are something that the Hammers' owners are particularly keen not to emulate.

With a home win over Southampton, things could start to look up for West Ham boss Sam Allardyce.
With a home win over Southampton, things could start to look up for West Ham boss Sam Allardyce.

Away from the personal though, the Saints' new 'feeder club' tag is something all Hammers fans will be familiar with, and there are parallels with what occurred at St. Mary's over the summer with the days of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. Southampton are promising an equally good crop of youngsters coming through again too, but they are a season or so away from the Premier League. The key issue for new manager Ronald Koeman is to keep the Saints ticking over while he introduces his own style to a set of players he probably didn't expect to be dealing with when he agreed to move to the south coast.

It's likely that West Ham will revert to the team that won at Selhurst Park last week as Diego Poyet was really the only player from the Capital One Cup game in midweek who looked as if he had anything to add to that squad, and this means -- against all odds -- Carlton Cole will continue to play up front again, probably alongside Ricardo Vaz Te.

It would be ridiculous to pretend that the wholesale departures from the south coast club during the summer haven't affected expectations at St. Mary's, but the installation of the Dutch legend Koeman and the acquisition of some new names including Fraser Forster, Shane Long, Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic to fill the void of the 90 million pounds' worth of departures has made a game against Southampton a slightly confusing one to call.

Nevertheless, West Ham have a good record against the Saints and another home defeat to follow the opening day reversal against Spurs and the upsetting penalty shoot-out loss to Sheffield United in the Capital One Cup is unthinkable. The Hammers are actually at a tipping point here; a win, and the season could be said to have started well, a defeat, and the storm clouds will be gathering.

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