On Monday night, Town fans will not know what atmosphere to expect when they make the walk through Westfield Shopping Centre at Stratford and up to the Olympic Stadium.
Now there’s a sentence most Town fans wouldn’t have expected to be seen written when talking about the East End’s self-proclaimed biggest club, West Ham United.
For the hard-core travelling faithful, they’ll get a chance to maybe have a meander around London before heading to East London to see their team hopefully pick up three points.
For under pressure West Ham manager Slaven Bilic, his first home game of the season could also be his last if the result doesn’t go his way.
I expect the West Ham hierarchy will expect no less than a convincing win if he is to keep his job but the boys in blue and white led by David Wagner will be hoping to upset the applecart further.
Wagner has already rammed home to his players the importance of keeping another clean sheet on Monday which will break the record for the number of consecutive clean sheets produced by a newly promoted Premier League team.
After the surprisingly thrilling 0-0 draw with Southampton at the John Smith’s Stadium before the international break, Town will be full of confidence going into tomorrow’s game with complacency a buzzword that Wagner has eradicated from their vocabulary.
Whilst many fans would have been disappointed at the timing of the international break, on closer inspection, many of the players against the Saints looked visibly tired towards the end of the game, with the increased intensity of the Premier League having an added toll on their physical and mental faculties.
The break will have allowed them to recharge and refuel for the next group of fixtures, with the squad taking part in a productive mid-season trip to Germany to play Altona 93 which they won 3-0.
New signings Abdelhamid Sabiri and Florent Hadergjonaj will have had a decent settling in period and adjusted to Wagner’s system whilst other squad members have taken mini-holidays of their own to get away from the Premier League bubble.
I expect both new signings to be involved in some capacity tomorrow especially with forward Collin Quaner set to miss out with a knock.
Now the break is over, the excitement can begin all over again.
From speaking to the rational West Ham fans I know, most are going into this game with caution but knowing that this is the sort of game they should expect to at least get a result from.
Playing at home to a newly promoted side on paper should be a game they win. However, our current form combined with the ‘no limits’ mentality of the squad and a noisy 2,000+ away fans will ensure that this game will be far from a walk in the (Olympic) park.
Winston Reid vs Steve Mounié
West Ham’s defensive frailties have been worryingly exposed already this season, conceding ten goals already in the league this season.
Leaking four to Man United is no disgrace but allowing Newcastle to score three against them without reply should really send alarm bells ringing.
West Ham’s defence is undoubtedly better with Winston Reid in it and if the New Zealander is fit, he will hope to get the better of Steve Mounié to stop our aerial threat.
Both uncompromising players with great physicality, this battle could well decide the game.
Javier Hernandez vs Chris Schindler
Chris Schindler enjoys marshalling more diminutive, quicker forwards but this will be a true test of his ability against arguably one of the best finishers in the world.
Certainly one of the most under-rated.
Hernandez has shown already, if he is given service he can be deadly inside the six-yard box, scoring twice already against Southampton.
As good as our defence has been, we have given a few clear-cut chances to teams and we simply cannot afford to do this with Hernandez lurking.
He is well capable of putting the game beyond us and Schindler will have to be at his very best to ensure he doesn’t get a sniff in front of Lössl’s goal.
Michail Antonio vs Tommy Smith
Michail Antonio has come a long way since his encounters against Town with Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest.
Whilst at Wednesday, I still remember a televised game where Tommy Smith had him in his back-pocket all game and Antonio was subbed after 70 minutes, I doubt something like that will happen again.
Having developed immeasurably as a player since his Championship and League One days, Antonio is one of West Ham’s biggest goal threats and has been a consistent provider of both goals and assists in his time at the club.
Smith will have to step up his performance significantly if he is to nullify the threat of Antonio down his flank and cut off the supply line to Hernandez.
Cheikhou Kouyate vs Aaron Mooy
With midfield maestro Manuel Lanzini injured, West Ham will be looking to Kouyate to provide drive, energy and a disruptive influence to Town’s midfield.
This will be the area that decides the game and Kouyate will have to be at the very top of his game to stop the creative influence of Aaron Mooy.
With two assists and one goal already to his name, Mooy is on fire at the moment and will be full of confidence knowing he will be playing on a large pitch where he can show off his skills and dictate the game to his liking.
Stop Mooy and you will go a long way to stopping our ‘Terrier identity’.
If West Ham are to get a result, targeting Mooy should be their number one priority.
Mark Noble vs Philip Billing
In the few games there have been already this season, many West Ham fans have been concerned at Club Captain and talisman Mark Noble’s sluggishness on the ball and off-colour form.
Still only aged 29, Noble should be at the peak of his powers but some are suggesting that those once energetic legs may have lost a significant amount of zest.
Noble will be hoping to prove these fans wrong with a strong performance on Monday night and he will probably be coming up against our Great Dane Phil Billing.
Fresh off his involvement with the Denmark U-21s, Billing will be full of confidence and will hope to bring his languid but authoritative playing style to the Olympic Stadium, relishing the ‘big game’ atmosphere playing in front of 60,000.
Billing must match Noble’s energy levels whilst stamping his authority on the game and breaking up any attacks that come down his channel.
Here is our predicted lineup for the clash this evening.
Stats to look out for
- This is their first top-flight meeting since March 1972, when West Ham won 3-0 at Upton Park.
- The most recent meeting was a League Cup second-round tie in September 1997, which West Ham won 3-1 on aggregate.
- West Ham lost eight Premier League home games last season, having only lost nine across the previous two campaigns combined.
- Joe Hart has failed to keep a clean sheet in his last 22 league appearances – a run stretching back to 8 January.
- The Hammers goalkeeper has made fewer Premier League saves (nine) than goals conceded (10).
- Only five sides have kept a clean sheet in their opening four games of a Premier League season. The last were Manchester City in 2015-16.
- A Premier League-high 36.3% of Town’s passes this season have been in the attacking third.
- Jonas Lössl could become only the fourth goalkeeper in Premier League history to keep a clean sheet in each of his first four appearances in the competition, after Pepe Reina, Alex Manninger and Anders Lindegaard.
If Town are to win on Monday, they need to keep the scores level for the first half an hour at least. The crowd will already be incredibly anxious at the thought of a fourth consecutive defeat and if we can keep them quiet and nervous, then we can start to carve out chances of our own. Do that, and we have every chance of driving back up the M1 with maximum points.