It seems obvious to say, but Dimitri Payet is bloody wonderful. Just in case you had forgotten this, the diminutive Frenchman turned in yet another stellar performance in the Hammer’s 1-5 FA Cup success away to Blackburn Rovers. A couple of goals, an assist and an all-round performance will have made the 7000plus West Ham fans that made the trip feel as though they got their money’s worth.
Payet is the jewel that rests atop of the ever more impressive West Ham side that Slaven Bilic has assimilated. The Croatian gaffer will be pleased with how well attacker Mikhail Antonio deputised at right-back and how quickly new signing Sam Byram has made the step up to a higher standard of football. With the injuries that seem perpetual to all three of West Ham’s strikers (Carrol, Valencia and Sahko) it will be especially heartening to see new loan signing Emmanuel Emenike make such an assured debut, scoring two goals.
When he was at Spartak Moscow I saw him play against Celtic in the Champions League and he looked as though he possessed everything a top forward needed. For a while it looked like his career had hit something of a roadblock; a sporadic spell in Turkey saw him opt to accept the petro-dollars in the Middle East. It is good to see the Nigerian frontman back to the sharper end of European football.
Bilic has made it known that the FA Cup is his priority saying “The proof is silverware. So I would prefer to win the FA Cup – and finish fifth or sixth!”. That does, however, bely the fact that his side sit just seven points from the erratic Manchester City in the final Champions League spot. If West Ham are to have elite European football in their maiden year in the Olympic Stadium then a strong run in is imperative, starting with Saturday’s home fixture against strugglers Sunderland.
While the grass is an almost illuminous green at Upton Park, the atmosphere at The Stadium of Light is predictably grim. Season after season it seems like the Black Cats are simply unable to break free from the lower reaches of the Premier League.
Changes in management have had little impact in their fortunes, from the explosive and at times unstable Di Canio to the more measured Poyet it seems that the entirety of the plan is to contrive a miraculous escape. Even the arrival of Premier League stalwart, Sam Allardyce, has done little to buck the trend. 19th in the table, with a leaky defence and an overreliance on the evergreen Jermain
Defoe, Sunderland will need another Steve McQueen esq Great Escape, to avoid the ignominy of relegation.
Sunderland will be without two of their more dynamic player Watmore and Lens. Late assessments will be made on Kirchhoff, Kaboul and Larsson.
West Ham will be without Sahko and like their opposition will monitor the fitness of a couple of key players; Reid and Carroll.
Sam Allardyce, never a manager to under-value his worth, will be desperate to get a result against the fans that all too regularly, hounded their former gaffer, but if Dimitri Payet and his chums play as well as they can then there is very little chance of “Big Sam” going home with his familiar Cheshire grin.