Struggling West Ham and Sunderland will be contesting a classic relegation six-pointer when they meet at Boleyn Ground, with both sides desperate to end the poor run of results. And with the Hammers sitting five points clear of their next opponents, they can push the Black Cats towards relegation with a victory on Saturday.
Andy Carroll not even close to returning
West Ham have been showing a great deal of progress under Sam Allardyce and I am sure they wouldn’t be anywhere near the bottom three had Andy Carroll been fit to play during the opening exchanges. However, despite the quality and experience in defence and midfield, the Hammers have largely struggled up front in the absence of the England international and now find themselves dangerously close to the relegation zone. Even if the run of four defeats in last five matches is obviously a cause for concern, not everything is doom and gloom for Sam Allardyce and his men. Back-up striker Modibo Maiga may still be misfiring, but he has showing plenty of improvement of late and it appears he only need that one goal to turn things around. Meanwhile, the Hammers will have tricky midfielder Ravel Morrison back from suspension, although now Kevin Nolan and Stuart Downing are out. Nevertheless, with West Ham still in much better spirits than Sunderland and their physical style of play difficult to match especially at Boleyn Ground, they have a good chance to return to winning ways ahead of the matches against Manchester United and Arsenal.
Stuart Downing and Kevin Nolan miss out through injury and suspension, but Ravel Morrison is back to the side. Winston Reid, Andy Carroll, Mladen Petric and Ricardo Vaz Te are long-term worries.
Difficult times for Sunderland
Gus Poyet must have thought things were about to get better as he won three of his first five games after arriving at the Stadium of Light, with victories over bitter rivals Newcastle and title contenders Manchester City expected to give the team a much needed lift. However, the Black Cats could only pick up one point from next four league fixtures, sharing spoils with Aston Villa while losing to Stoke, Chelsea and Tottenham, so it’s back to the drawing board for the Uruguayan. Narrow defeats to the top 4 contenders should give Poyet reason for optimism, although some shocking defending on the other hand is another cause for concern. Given they are already five points adrift of safety, the Black Cats need to start winning soon if they want to avoid the drop, but that is likely to put extra pressure on the players ahead of the crunch tie with West Ham. And while Sunderland have the potential to cause the Hammers some problems in London, it will not be easy for them to match one of the most physical sides in the league, with the lack of height likely to prove a huge problems at set-pieces.
Keiren Westwood and Carlos Cuellar continue to miss out, but there are no fresh injury worries for manager Gus Poyet.
West Ham may not be on top of their game at the moment, but the Hammers usually do well at their Boleyn Ground, especially against bottom-table sides. Meanwhile, Sunderland have brought just two points from seven away fixtures this term, and we cannot expect them to fare much better in London.
Top pick: Home win 2.00 (1/1) @ Betfred
Alternative pick 1: Under 2.5 goals 1.83 (5/6) @ BetVictor
Alternative pick 2: West Ham to win to nil 3.30 (23/10) @ Paddy Power