Football League Expert & Columnist
Every second counts
Peter Beagrie explains why West Ham fans should be grateful to have Sam Allardyce in charge.
Last Updated: 25/11/11 1:17pm
There's a real contrast in expectations between supporters of West Ham and Derby County.
Hammers supporters are looking to go straight back up to the Premier League, while Rams fans have seen their club on a downward spiral for several seasons. The ladder back to the top rung appears to be never ending for them.
At the moment West Ham are in second place and I've done some research to explain why that may not be a bad place to be at this stage:
In the last four seasons, the team that's been in second after 17 games have been promoted (West Brom 07/08, Birmingham 08/09, West Brom 09/10, QPR 10/11). The last team to fail to go up from second at this point was Preston in 2006/07.
In contrast, only two of the last four Championship leaders after 17 games have gone up (Wolves 08/09 and Newcastle 09/10). Watford and Cardiff have both fallen away after leading at this point.
However, things are rarely straightforward for West Ham. They've recovered well from their opening-day defeat to Cardiff and supporters who weren't enamoured with the appointment of Sam Allardyce should count themselves lucky because this is a league that rewards consistency, discipline and organisation. His team have those traits.
Apart from the 4-0 demolition of Blackpool, they haven't been particularly fluent in their home games and two of their three defeats have come at Upton Park. They've picked up 14 points at home, compared to 20 away and maybe they feel under pressure in front of their own fans.
I think injuries have restricted their ability to play free-flowing football, particularly in the wide areas where Matt Taylor, David Bentley, Henri Lansbury and Gary O'Neil have been out. Supporters disgruntled with the style of football should be aware of those mitigating circumstances.
However, their defence has been brilliant, only conceding 14 goals and keeping eight clean sheets. Also, they haven't really suffered from the loss of Scott Parker with Jack Collison, Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble and Papa Bouba Diop all contributing in the central midfield area.
They have plenty of strength in depth, as we saw when Frédéric Piquionne and Carlton Cole came off the bench to turn the game around against Coventry, but personally I don't feel they have the strength in depth up front that leaders Southampton have.
That may sound strange when we're talking about international players like Cole and John Carew or the Under-21 international Sam Baldock, but they definitely lack the free-flowing attitude of the Saints.
This is an important period with games coming up against Middlesbrough, Burnley, Reading, Barnsley and Birmingham and with the matches coming thick and fast all of the teams in the Championship will be tested.
Rams to the slaughter
Everything is stacked in West Ham's favour and most people will expect them to dish out some capital punishment and put the Rams to the slaughter on Saturday evening. However, when you're not at your best you can be undone in this league.
Nigel Clough is looking to reinvigorate a Derby side on a disastrous run of form. They've won one in nine, lost three on the spin and are bottom of the form guide. They haven't kept a clean sheet in nine games, which is a real contrast to their solid start when they won six of their first eight.
They're a real Jekyll and Hyde team - and it was true last year as well. In their first seven games they picked up just five points and were down in 20th. Then in their next 11 games they picked up 25 points from a possible 33 to rise to fourth. Then they went on a downward spiral and only took 19 points from the last 84 to finish in 19th.
So how do they turn things around? They've brought in Tamas Priskin, but for me he's not a natural goalscorer. Every manager he plays for seems to say he has all the attributes, but if that's the case why isn't he using them to the maximum? He's had unsuccessful loan spells at QPR and Swansea, but Clough is hoping he can provide cover for the injured Steve Davies and Theo Robinson. Earlier in the season I wondered if Nathan Tyson would be a star for them, but he has been out injured for much of the time as well.
Their away form is terrible with no clean sheets in their last six and no goals in their last three on the road. They really need to get the likes of Shaun Barker, Paul Green and James Bailey fit again because they would make a massive difference.
At the start of the season I tipped them to finish in the bottom eight, but optimistic supporters will be hoping that their positive start has seen them secure a basis of points to remain away from danger. This time last year they were three points and seven places worse off and they still finished in 19th.
But I do fear for them, as they have a tough run of games coming up after Saturday's game. West Ham will be odds on and Clough will need to earn his corn by making his players believe they can upset those odds.
The returning players such as Barker and Green can hopefully bring a breath of fresh air into the away dressing room, but I suspect West Ham will have too much for them.
What else we learned this week
It's easy this management lark... Nick Barmby claimed a 2-0 win over Derby in his first game as Hull boss. He must be wondering what all the fuss is about.
What a difference one player makes... Cameron Stewart came back from injury and took Hull to a different level. His pace and trickery can build some momentum for them and Matty Fryatt and Aaron McLean will appreciate the bullets he supplies for them.
We highlighted Albert Adomah and Nicky Maynard last week... and they didn't disappoint against Millwall in our live game. It was a toe-to-toe battle between two sides who could see the benefits three points would bring and Bristol City were the last team standing.
It should be an all-action affair at Ashton Gate this weekend... Bristol City should enjoy hosting a Southampton side who will come out and attack, rather than sit in and defend as most teams do when they go there.
Cardiff's fantastic run goes on... they'll be looking to press home their home advantage and try to close the gap on West Ham by beating Nottingham Forest. They'll be looking to boost their goal difference too, as that could make all the difference.
There's going to be a monumental push for promotion... the likes of Birmingham, Blackpool and Leicester are chasing Hull, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Cardiff.
Ken Bates has said in the press he isn't happy... He's not impressed with Leeds' league position and their tendency to concede late goals, but I think Simon Grayson is doing an excellent job. I'd point out the late goals they've scored against Peterborough, West Ham and Brighton. Those points could be vital.
There's a big one in Yorkshire this Saturday... when Leeds host Barnsley. There will be a red-hot atmosphere and Keith Hill likes his team to play the game in the proper manner and go for the three points. Leeds mustn't take them lightly.
Doncaster fans want to turn the Keepmoat into the Keep-em-out... they have been leaking a few of late and will be looking for a big result against Watford. Dean Saunders has brought in players from all over the world and hopefully they can pull away from the bottom before they start to get cut adrift.