West Ham United-West Brom Preview
Starting with their 2-0 opening weekend victory over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, West Ham United have been a surprise package all season, and manager Slaven Bilic has coaxed a high level of consistency from his squad.
With four matches remaining, the Hammers find themselves in the hunt for a Europa League place heading into Saturday's match versus West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns.
The Hammers (14-14-6) are unbeaten in their last nine league matches (4-5-0) but seeking consecutive victories for the first time since winning three on the trot from Feb. 27-March 5. West Ham have been idle since beating Watford 3-1 on April 20, getting two goals from the spot by Mark Noble and another strike from Andy Carroll.
Carroll continued his late push for Roy Hodgson to consider him for England's European Championship squad, netting his sixth goal in the last six matches.
But now the club must turn their attention to West Brom, who can bunker well and make life difficult for opponents. A top-four finish may be too much an ask since the Hammers are eight points behind fourth-place Arsenal with a match in hand, but Bilic maintained the aim was still a top-six finish.
"Yeah, it is a target. It's been a target for quite a while now," Bilic said. "It wasn't a target at the beginning. With four games to go, we have a gap, but we can't afford not to win game or lose games. The top six is the one we're looking for now.
"It will be hard, as we have four tough games - and Liverpool and Southampton are playing well and picking up points - but we're on a good run and we're fully motivated. If we continue to play how we have been, we have a good chance."
Bilic also debunked the thought West Brom (10-11-14) have packed it in because they are safely mid-table.
"No, that's not the case. Teams are playing for pride, fans and themselves," the manager remarked. "Once I played in Germany, and we had to win the last game to get to Europe. We played a team that had been relegated in February or March and they beat us 5-1!
"West Brom with Tony Pulis and the English mentality; we're expecting them to play at their maximum. They are safe. West Brom it looks like they've never been in trouble. That shows they have a good team and a great manager."
The Baggies are 13th on 41 points and all but ended Tottenham Hotspur's title hopes with a 1-1 draw Monday at White Hart Lane on Monday. After giving the Spurs a lead with an own goal, Craig Dawson made amends with a late equaliser to give West Brom road points against the top two teams in the table in an eight-match span.
Pulis praised his team's resolve after many thought an in-form Spurs side would simply blow through them.
"I thought the first half we were on the back foot, as we played at Arsenal," he said. "We were much better second half. But Spurs are a fantastic side. Tottenham have had to play a lot of games on Thursdays and Sundays - so for them to be where they are is a fantastic achievement.
"I'm just pleased that we showed what we can do after the break. We have done well in games at Chelsea, Liverpool, Leicester. Arsenal was the only one we didn't play well in. We have played a good side, who have real quality and done well."
Pulis also singled out his goalkeeper and the goal-scorer for praise.
"Boaz (Myhill)was excellent, that was pleasing," he said. "And I thought Gardner was outstanding too. It was a good battling performance. Craig (Dawson) did well with his header too. He was unlucky before the break so to score the equaliser was good for us."
The teams split the points with a 1-1 draw at Upton Park on Nov. 29. Mauro Zarate opened the scoring for the Hammers on 17 minutes, but a second-half own goal by Winston Reid leveled things for West Brom.