March 19, 2015

Sunderland did West Ham United a big favour in the last Premier League fixture, as the Hammers climbed closer to a spot in continental competition.

With Dimitri Payet seeking a goal in a third straight match, West Ham looks to move into fifth place by beating the relegation-threatened Black Cats at Upton Park in the lunchtime kickoff Saturday.

The Hammers (10-10-6) are seventh in the league table because of the tiebreaker on goal difference, trailing Southampton by just one goal. They're also just one point back of Manchester United for fifth place and a spot in the Europa League.

West Ham should like their chances of moving into that spot since the Saints face Chelsea while United is idle until hosting Arsenal on Sunday.

The Irons are in the favourable position thanks in large part to Sunderland's 2-1 victory over Man United on Feb. 13. However, Hammers could only muster a 2-all draw at Norwich City later that day.

They're looking to atone for that.

"For us every game in the Premier League is important, but this is especially important because we didn't get the three points in our last league game," goalkeeper Adrian told the team's official website. "We need another three points urgently to stay near the top of the table."

Confidence shouldn't be a problem after West Ham thumped Blackburn 5-1 in the FA Cup on Sunday, setting up a quarterfinal meeting with Manchester United next month.

The Hammers are also 7-2-1 in their last 10 home matches against the Black Cats, who are 2-2-9 away.

Payet is looking to continue his outstanding stretch. The midfielder has three goals and three assists in three matches, scoring a brace against Rovers and assisting on Emanuel Emenike's second tally.

"His vision, his work-rate - he is not one of these flair players that makes everyone else get the ball for him and then does damage," midfielder Michail Antonio said. "He will go and win the ball back himself and then cause damage.

"He does both - the gritty side and the flair."

Payet completed West Ham's comeback from a two-goal deficit at Sunderland (6-5-15) on Oct. 3, scoring in the 60th minute of the 2-all draw.

The Black Cats are 19th in the standings, but just one point behind Norwich and Newcastle as they attempt their seemingly annual escape act from the drop.

Since they were idle last week, manager Sam Allardyce took the club on a midseason sojourn to Dubai.

"From experience, taking players to Dubai in the warm weather training scenario the players will come back much more capable, much more eager to overcome the position and try to get better results," Allardyce told the team's official website.

"They went away and it certainly gives everyone enough time physically to recover and recuperate mentally," he added.

Sunderland, though, will need to be better in the back. They've allowed 50 goals to tie Norwich for the most in the league. That includes conceding 18 during a 1-1-4 stretch away from home.

Production from Jermain Defoe would surely help. The forward, a member of West Ham from 1999-2004, has scored once in five games after tallying five times in the previous two.

Defoe has six goals in 13 matches against his former team, including three in six visits to London.

A hamstring injury forced him to miss the October matchup.

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