After putting in another impressive performance last weekend when defeating champions Manchester City, West Ham travel to Stoke City eyeing a fourth league win in a row. Having equalled their best start to a league campaign for 29 years, things are looking decidedly healthy for the Hammers at present.
Supporters must only now be beginning to take in the scale of the turnaround seen since last season. Sitting in fourth and playing vibrant and entertaining football, they deservedly rival Southampton as the surprise package of the Premier League so far.
At the end of last season it was an altogether different story. The fans were calling for manager Sam Allardyce’s head and they had a point.
The team looked devoid of creativity and, with the board demanding a more attractive style of football, Allardyce was being asked to adopt an unfamiliar approach in order to save his job.
Up to that point he had been merely fulfilling the club’s criteria of ensuring Premier League status for the switch to Stratford in 2016. The football wasn’t pretty but it was effective and, bearing in mind the players and finances at his disposal, Big Sam’s pragmatism had context.
In the face of boardroom expectations and intense scrutiny from supporters desperate to see a style of play more in tune with West Ham tradition, huge credit must go to Allardyce for the remarkable improvement unfolding in East London right now.
The new signings have of course been a major factor. The club have made some astute signings, with a noticeable upturn in quality from previous windows. Talented players able to meet the physical demands of the Premier League, they have integrated seamlessly.
Alex Song is showing the kind of form that persuaded Barcelona to shell out £16m for him two years ago. His contribution is growing in defensive midfield. Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia have added pace and a work ethic to the front line, giving Allardyce the opportunity to switch to a four man midfield that incorporates Stewart Downing at the tip of the diamond.
Downing has put his disappointing first campaign behind him and taken to the number 10 role effortlessly. With no restriction on what areas in the final third he can to drift into, he is looking dangerous on the ball and having added unpredictability to his game opponents have much more to think about when trying to stop him.
The priority for Big Sam now will be to maintain their performance levels when teams start counteracting the tactics that have served him well so far. Record signing Andy Carroll is due to return from injury soon and will provide a more familiar option to his manager should he choose to alter his approach.
It’s been a fantastic story so far. A story which will only make more headlines the longer Sam Allardyce continues to defy his critics. Notwithstanding the increased expectation the longer West Ham continue to occupy the European places, can the team continue to entertain?
***This post originally appeared on my blog @boxtoboxfooty. Go check it out over at http://www.boxtoboxfootball.net***