Let’s get the obvious things out of the way first. Yes, everyone expected this to be a relegation battle; yes, both teams have done really well this season and yes, it’s refreshing to see freshly promoted teams ‘challenging’ for Europe. Tomorrow’s game was always likely to be a key game for both teams and the fact that it’s more about consolidating a place in the top half of the table than anything else is a credit to both managers and their players.
In the bigger scheme of things it’s hard to see a result that would be too damaging here. Maybe the best thing to do is to join in with the pundits’ celebration of little teams made good and to take the plaudits; it’d certainly be the simplest. The thing is somewhere deep inside I think we still owe West Ham something, or maybe it’s just Pardew. Either way I’m certainly not ready to have a back slapping session with them.
In fact I’m sick of West Ham; they’re the team that spoiled our early days in the First Division, the side that buggered up our final chance of promotion in the same season. They were also the side that, despite taking a thumping at their place turned up at the JJB and caused the wobble that mean that a win on the final day was required to confirm promotion. We took them to pieces again at Upton Park, earlier in the season and now their threatening to take a little bit of the shine (and only a little bit) by finishing above us.
The only threat to a fourth unchanged team sheet on the trot is Mike Pollitt, he looks to have recovered from the injury that cut sort his Carling Cup Final but a starting place is probably beyond him for this one. Things are a little different for West Ham, they’ve struggled to keep a steady team over recent weeks, and after Monday’s cup quarter final, there’ll be changes again, nit least Anton Ferdinand, who isn’t fit to change. Expect the almost unfeasibly red headed James Collins to take his place.
The talking point for this one will probably be about the front players though. We wanted Ashton and didn’t get him, the last time he was at our place he grabbed three and he’s in a fine run of form. His likely partner, Marlon Harewood, has also caused us his fair share of problems in the past. At the other end, Roberts and Camara have had a quiet couple of games (the goal at Boro aside), the pressure will be on for them in this one.
If West Ham have the edge in terms of strikers then Latics probably have the stronger back line. De Zeeuw and Scharner could have a busy afternoon on their hands, but the last few games suggest they can handle that. Can they keep another clean sheet? I don’t think so, neither side is likely to be too cagey in their approach to this game and we should be in for a fairly open affair. To get a win one team will need to take control early on. If that doesn’t happen I see it being end to end all the way and if pushed for a result I’d call a draw.
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