Football League Expert & Columnist
Peter Beagrie says West Ham need to fix their home form as he previews the Easter fixtures.
Last Updated: 05/04/12 4:41pm
I reckon West Ham are happier playing away from home at the moment.
The Hammers have been one of the top performers on the road this season and boast one of the best records in the Championship along with Middlesbrough and Reading.
You would think they'd have hit double figures in terms of home wins by now and if they could have captured their away form at Upton Park they'd be neck and neck with Southampton at the top. As it is, they are scrapping to catch Reading in second place.
Big Sam has had seasoned professionals like Matt Taylor, Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble, Abdoulaye Faye and Robert Green at his disposal and you would have thought they'd have the experience to handle the negativity that exists at Upton Park.
There's a sense of disappointment among the fans over the style of play and the fact they haven't been able to find their way to the top of the division. However, bigger clubs than West Ham have struggled after coming down to the second tier of English football.
They missed Ricardo Vaz Te when he was out for a few games. He's something different; he scores goals, he's good in the air and he can take people on.
He could be the trump card for Big Sam, even though they have plenty of options up front including Carlton Cole (who has struggled to score goals regularly), Nicky Maynard, Sam Baldock and John Carew.
They have an endless list of centre-forwards, but none of them are on a goalscoring streak and someone needs to stand out from the crowd and go and make things happen.
There are some absolutely cracking fixtures coming up over Easter, including some top-six head-to-heads.
Easter fixtures for the top six:
SOUTHAMPTON: Portsmouth (h), Crystal Palace (a)
READING: Leeds (h - live on Sky), Brighton (a)
WEST HAM: Barnsley (a), Birmingham (h - live on Sky)
BIRMINGHAM: Crystal Palace (h), West Ham (a - live on Sky)
BLACKPOOL: Watford (a), Barnsley (h)
BRIGHTON: Burnley (a), Reading (h)
Looking at those games you would say that Blackpool have the easiest run, but given Watford's recent form nothing can be taken for granted. However, they'll be looking to take four points from their two Easter games to make inroads on the teams above them.
Ian Holloway made seven changes to his side against Southampton last weekend and put the leaders to the sword. Stephen Dobbie has been an inspired signing and has plenty of experience of earning promotion, having done so in the last two seasons, and he'll take some of the pressure off Kevin Phillips and Gary Taylor-Fletcher.
Speaking of Southampton, they also have good fixtures on paper, but maybe not when you consider all the rivalry and tribalism that goes with the Portsmouth clash. Pompey will definitely be looking to spoil the party! The Saints then go to Crystal Palace who don't tend to concede many at home and that'll be a tough place to go and get three points.
However, Blackpool and Southampton probably have the best Easter run of the top six and the other four sides will want to make sure they pick up as many points as possible.
For the reasons mentioned above, Big Sam and his players will look forward to their trip to Barnsley, but face a tough at home to Birmingham on Monday.
Birmingham will be tough opponents for anybody right now. In Marlon King and Nikola Zigic, Chris Hughton has a front two that complement each other well, while wingman Chris Burke is one of the top assist-makers in the Championship. He's been a revelation since his free transfer from Cardiff.
Just outside the top six we see the pretenders - Cardiff, Middlesbrough and Hull - who have all been in indifferent form. Those three sides, like Brighton, have an inferior goal difference to the other promotion-chasers and I think that could make a massive difference.
But even though we have some great games coming up, they pale into insignificance next to the live Sky Sports game next Friday 13. It will be unlucky for one of the top two when Southampton host Reading. I'm already looking forward to that one!
Down at the basement
Coventry have been a revelation of late, going six games unbeaten to get out of the drop zone.
Fair play to Andy Thorn, who has played a lot of young lads, but they haven't let him down. I like the fact he has come out after every performance - win or lose - and spoken honestly and astutely about the game. He doesn't make excuses (despite having a very thin squad) and when they have come up against stronger sides he has accepted that.
Those players are fighting for their manager and for their club and they have been rewarded for their bravery by clambering out of the relegation zone.
Their form saw Bristol City drop back into the bottom three ahead of their game at Nottingham Forest on Sky Sports. Derek McInnes steered them out of danger when he first arrived, with Albert Adomah the standout performer, but his goals have dried up of late.
McInnes has tried numerous players up front with him, but I think he needs to stick with Jon Stead as the replacement for Nicky Maynard. He's a hard-worker who can play with his back for goal and he's capable of getting goals in this division. I'd like to see them stick with a formation and a set of players for the rest of the season.
They play Forest and Coventry in their next two games, so there are chances for them to pull other teams into the mix. A win over Forest would certainly do them the world of good and they also play Barnsley at the end of April.
If Barnsley continue their recent downward spiral they could get pulled into it. They still have to play Coventry and Peterborough, so anything could happen.
And could Portsmouth pull off a miracle escape, despite their 10-point deduction? After the derby with Southampton, they play Millwall and Doncaster. They also play Nottingham Forest on the final day, but the most exciting game on that day could be Southampton v Coventry; a match that may decide who wins the title and who goes down.
All the permutations are there. The scrap at the bottom is fascinating and it will change from game to game.