West ham v Newcastle
Two of the surprise packages in this season’s Barclays Premier League meet at Upton Park on Saturday afternoon, where West Ham United play hosts to a resurgent Newcastle United.
After starting the season with tow disappointing defeats in the opening three games, West Ham have gained in confidence and momentum, following the impact of new signings Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia in September. Only narrow defeats at Manchester United in early October, and then at Everton last weekend have blemished a run of nine games that has seen them win four games, including impressive home victories over Liverpool and Manchester City. Recent draws prior to that defeat at Goodison Park have slowed the momentum a little, but the point that they earned at Stoke after being two down going into the final half hour was probably as satisfying a result for Sam Allardyce as any of the wins. Big Sam might be too much of a realist to get caught up in all the hype about securing a Champions League spot, but nevertheless his team are in sixth spot on merit. Stewart Downing has been given a new lease of life in a more central role, his performances earning him an England recall recently, and with Andy Carroll back in the fold, Allardyce has options up front while he is waiting for Sakho to recover from injury.
Newcastle’s season has been a remarkable turnaround, and is testament to the faith shown in Alan Pardew to prove his words that he knows what he is doing. Four points from four draws in their opening seven games had the media and the Toon Army baying for Pardew’s head, but he has silenced everyone as he has watched his side win five consecutive league games to shoot up from occupying one of the relegations spots to fifth in the table in the space of a month. Single goal home wins over Leicester, Liverpool and Queens Park Rangers have alternated with even more impressive away wins at Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion, along with an eye-catching 2-0 win at the Etihad that dumped Manchester City out of the Capital One League Cup. The platform for this recent run of success has been a tightening up in defence that has seen Newcastle concede just one goal in those six wins, with Tim Krul outstanding in goal and Fabrizio Coloccini back to his best marshalling the back line. With Papisse Cisse starting to look more like the player who took the league by storm a couple of years ago, and new signing Ayoze Perez finally finding his feet with three goals in the last four games, things are beginning to look rosy for the Magpies, and this has all the makings of a cracking Premier League encounter.