Potentially the game of the season, by common consent. On-form sixth-placed under-the-radar City versus on-form second-place title favourites West Ham. Decent away following for a change. Hefty home gate. A game with something at stake. What’s not to look forward to?
That West Ham are having a good season is little surprise. A strong squad, a sprinkling of authentic Premier League class and a manager capable of marshalling those resources was always going to do well. It’d be a minor shock to see West Ham outside of the top two come late April – indeed, it’d represent something of a failure. They’re under pressure to succeed, but so far they’re doing so.
They’ve not performed immaculately, however. While City were slipping up at Barnsley in midweek, the Hammers had a disappointment of their own with a 0-0 draw at home to bottom club Bristol C, a result that reportedly didn’t go down to well in East London. This trip to East Yorkshire will be viewed as a tricky one, though they can comfort themselves with their away record – with four wins out of seven and only one defeat, only Middlesbrough boast a better return on their travels.
However, they’re coming up against a side that’s looking good on home territory. Four wins from six may not sound too startling, but they’ve all come in succession recently and it’s a vast improvement on last season’s unending struggles at the Circle. Suddenly the Tigers look composed and confident at home and should fear no-one, not even arguably the division’s strongest side.
Alas, the trio of players who’ve been absent of late all look likely to miss out again. The loss of Pusic is proving to be unexpectedly damaging, unbalancing the side by depriving us of natural width on the left and forcing a central midfielder into alien territory. One assumes West Ham will be looking forward to exploiting that. Waghorn’s hamstring injury is recovering slowly and with a fortnight off after tomorrow, he won’t be risked. Otherwise, Barmby’s latest niggle combines with Garcia, Dawson and Stewart’s longer-term spells on the sidelines. Basso is struggling with the injury that forced him off at Oakwell, but will be given until tomorrow afternoon to recover, as will Aaron Mclean – as two of City’s best performers in recent weeks, the loss of either would be considerable.
West Ham have a crop of injuries themselves, however. David Bentley, John Carew, Henri Lansbury, Winston Reid and Matt Taylor represent a quartet of powerful performers whose unavailability we shan’t overly mourn. Both sides are reaching the November international break with an uncommonly long list of players missing for fitness reasons, and will welcome the chance to repair their squads. All being well, the Tigers could be back at full strength by the end of this month.
West Ham aren’t a team we’ve traditionally prospered against. Of our four meetings in the Premier League we won only the first (London 0 Hull 4), losing twice at Upton Park and entertainingly sharing six goals in the second meeting in the north. You had to go back to the early 90s for previous encounters, including a debilitating 7-1 annihilation in London. This is a fixture with a 91 year history, but City have only won 10 of 39 – but on the other hand, we haven’t lost at home to the Hammers since 1954. They’re favourites to end that long run tomorrow (13/8), while the Tigers can be backed at up to 9/5. Bring it on.