West Ham have a habit of pulling off the unexpected late in the season
West Ham face North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur at the London Stadium on Friday night. It is a crucial match for both teams for completely different reasons.
Spurs, of course, need three points to maintain the pressure on Chelsea at the top of the Premier League. Any dropped points at Stratford will probably ensure the title travels back to West London.
West Ham's need is a little more difficult to fathom. Saturday's dull 0-0 draw against Stoke at the Bet365 Stadium left the Hammers needing another win to be mathematically certain of top level football next season. Currently at 39 points, it's likely Slaven Bilic's men have enough points already but, but being the only club to suffer relegation with 42 points, Hammers fans are understandably reluctant to ever feel entirely comfortable until the final table is printed.
A win against the team Hammers fans love to hate would be a massive boost for Bilic. The manager needs one. Shaky in defence, lacking creativity in midfield and with little attacking threat, West Ham have limped through the season. Entertainment has been at a minimum and Bilic's position has come under threat as a result. Two wins against Spurs and Liverpool in the club's last two home games may be the only thing that can save the manager's job.
It would be a brave man to bet against Spurs perhaps, but the Hammers have form in this situation. The East London side have an unerring ability of spoiling the party of teams reaching for the summit.
Spurs themselves have suffered from it. The famous "Lasagne Gate" match in 2006, which West Ham won 2- 1 to deny Spurs a Champions League spot, was played against the backdrop of food poisoning amongst the entire Tottenham side. The team had stayed overnight in a Docklands hotel and, though completely spurious, the rumour that a vindictive Hammers supporting chef had spiked the team's food was given huge credence in the East End.
Perhaps a more prescient example, however, was the superlative display by goalkeeper Ludek Miklosko who pulled off one wonder save after another to deny Manchester United the league title back in 1995. As a result of Miklosko's heroics that afternoon, Blackburn Rovers went on to lift the title. The Manchester United team that day talk about it still.
It's often forgotten, however, that just weeks earlier an average mid-table West Ham team had dented Blackburn's run-in with a comprehensive 2-0 win at home. Had Blackburn not been soundly beaten that afternoon they may not have needed the Hammers' help on the last day.
Surely the finest example of West Ham's habit of pulling off the spectacular, though, was the 1991-92 season; a campaign that ended with the club getting relegated in 22nd place. Manchester United under Alex Ferguson were chasing the title and visited Upton Park in late April. The Hammers, inept all season, played like Barcelona in a display Ferguson called "obscene," running out 1-0 winners. It was virtually the only decent performance from the club all season and it handed the title to Leeds United.
Hammers fans never forgot Fergie's outburst, but there was little to criticise the United boss for. In view of how the team had played all that season, his criticism was totally correct. Even half as much passion and commitment in the rest of the campaign and West Ham would have been present in the opening Premier League season in 1992-93 instead of trying to navigate their way from the Championship.
Times have changed, of course, and West Ham's ability to turn their home into a cauldron of noise may be a thing of the past. Friday night will put it to the test.
Tottenham will feel they have too much in reserve to fall this time. Mauricio Pochettino has given the North London side more resolve and a touch of steel that previous Spurs sides have lacked. Unbeaten in the Premier League since mid-February, Tottenham have the drive and confidence to run Chelsea to the very last game.
But there's always an air around West Ham in matches like this. It may not be the Boleyn under floodlights, but this is an opportunity for the club to stamp a mark on their new home in Stratford. Friday night is important for the Slaven Bilic certainly but it's even more vital for the Hammers' frustrated fans.
Peter Thorne, aka Billy Blagg (@BillyBlaggEsq), is ESPN FC's West Ham blogger.