Opinion from the stands

A realistic finish for West Ham?

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West Ham’s recent upturn in form has seen them shoot up the table and after a 3-1 win over Middlesbrough they are now looking comfortable in mid-table. The improvement in results has coincided with Andy Carroll’s return to the side, and his goals have instilled confidence in the players around him. The feel-good factor is slowly creeping back in among the fan base, and even Slaven Bilic’s permanent grimace seems to have subsided.

When the Hammers lost 5-1 to Arsenal at the start of December, pundits and neutrals tipped them for the drop. They hadn’t won in a long time and it looked like a sinking ship, with home form in the new stadium a particular cause for concern. The response has been phenomenal. West Ham drew away at Liverpool, then won three on the bounce against Burnley, Hull and Swansea. They ran out of steam towards the end of the festive period and lost to Leicester and Man Utd, but have now rallied again to win back-to-back games against Crystal Palace and Boro.

That’s five wins in seven. In their last two games they have scored six and conceded one. Andy Carroll is on fire, banging in three goals in the last two games, including that screamer against Palace. Think how dangerous the Hammers would be if they could get a full season out of him. Michail Antonio is also in sensational form and fans will be saying, “Dimitri who?

West Ham are starting to play with real swagger, the fans are finding their voices again and the bookmakers are taking notice too: betdsi lines and odds at other leading sportsbooks show the Hammers going into games against the likes of Palace and Middlesbrough. That wasn’t necessarily the case earlier this season. West Ham are now all the way out at 66/1 to be relegated. That puts them ahead of nine other Premiership teams in the bookmakers’ ratings and cements their status as safe for another year.

Now they can start looking up the table instead of looking over their shoulders, particularly if Carroll can stay fit. An interesting bet looks to be the 7/5 bookmakers are offering on West Ham to finish in the top 10. The top six are obviously nailed on and you can also expect Everton to finish seventh as they are on a roll. That leaves three places in the top half of the table and it looks like only five teams are in contention.

Bournemouth are in freefall thanks to a dreadful defence and Burnley’s appalling away form will offset their strong performances at Turf Moor. Those teams and Watford will just be happy to stay up. That leaves West Brom, Stoke, West Ham, Southampton and Leicester. West Brom have the advantage in terms of points on the board and are currently eighth, which is amazing because of that group they probably have the weakest squad and the smallest transfer budget. Stoke are a good team and they have also been consistently improving, as their recent draw with Man Utd highlighted, so you would fancy them to make it. Ditto Southampton, who have grown accustomed to finish in the top eight. But the Hammers can overhaul West Brom, who are only four points ahead of them, and they can hold off the champions. Leicester have shown their limitations this season and it beggars belief that they won the league last term. They have been distracted by the Champions League, but the performances have not been good enough, and West Ham already have a healthy advantage over them. They are missing stars Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani at the Africa Cup of Nations and West Ham can hold off their challenge and finish in the top 10, so those odds look great right now.

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