Villa Park does not look the place to head for Boxing Day entertainment but Andrew Atherley says the visitors are the more likely to lift themselves out of their recent slump
"Backing either team for the straight win is a leap of faith but West Ham remain the more solid option, with Bilic having kept them hard to beat during this difficult period."
Back West Ham on Draw No Bet at 2.0421/20
Aston Villa v West Ham
Saturday December 26, 15:00
Remi Garde has almost doubled Villa's points total in his six games in charge but that does not amount to much, with three draws taking their tally to seven. That still leaves them in an almost impossible position, five points adrift of second-bottom Sunderland and 10 short of being clear of the relegation zone.
Garde could field the same line-up that started at Newcastle last week, with defender Micah Richards still a major doubt having missed the last three games with a knee injury. The main selection choice appears to be whether Jordan Ayew will be partnered up front by Rudy Gestede, who made an impact from the bench in the fightback for a 1-1 draw against Newcastle, or whether Scott Sinclair will retain his starting place.
Against many predictions, West Ham started the season brightly under Slaven Bilic but their form has dimmed amid a spate of injuries down the spine of the team.
Playmaker Dimitri Payet is the key absentee, although he could be back earlier than expected for the home game against Liverpool on January 2, and other important players on the sidelines in recent weeks have been defender Winston Reid, attacking midfielders Victor Moses and Manuel Lanzini, and forwards Diafra Sakho and Andy Carroll.
Lanzini and Carroll are the only ones with any chance of returning here and the availability of either player would be a boost for Bilic as he looks for a first win in eight games - the last victory having been the 2-1 triumph over 10-man Chelsea on October 24.
Enner Valencia, having been a second-half substitute in the last two games, might also be ready to add fresh impetus to the misfiring attack.
Two months ago this would have been a clear-cut decision in favour of West Ham, but it is trickier now even with Villa improving, albeit at a snail's pace.
The problem for West Ham is that the goals have dried up, and so have the points. Their last seven Premier League matches have brought just three goals - all scored in singles - along with four blanks. The only good news is that the last three games have been goalless draws, which at least has boosted their tally to five points from those seven games.
But the difference is clear: after the first 10 games of the season West Ham were third, averaging two points and 2.2 goals per game; now they are eighth, with a points average of 0.71 and a goal average of 0.43 over those last seven games.
The slump was almost inevitable after Payet was forced off with an ankle injury against Everton, the Hammers' 12th league game of the season. Bilic already had injury problems and, in any case, most teams would struggle if a player of Payet's class and influence was wrenched out of their line-up.
There is some hope for Bilic in that eight of the next 10 games, starting here, are against bottom-half teams. West Ham have been hard to beat in that category (just one defeat in eight) with two wins and a heavy concentration of five draws. The last three games against bottom-half teams have been draws, which emphasises the question mark over their win chance with the current personnel at Bilic's disposal.
West Ham's scoring problems make it possible to argue that this is the best chance yet for Villa to register their first win under Garde; indeed, their first since the 1-0 victory at Bournemouth on the opening day of the season.
Villa have their own difficulties in attack, however, with five blanks in eight home games. Coupled with the fact that they have managed only two clean sheets in 17 matches (against Bournemouth and in a goalless draw at home to Manchester City in Garde's first game), that explains why they are struggling so badly.
One goal might be enough here, but all too often Villa have been on the wrong side in that scenario, as three of their six defeats at Villa Park have been 1-0.
The glimmer of hope is that they scored twice at home in the games against Sunderland and Watford and a repeat performance would make things difficult for West Ham, although so far that greater goal threat has always come at a price (Sunderland scored twice in return, while Watford won 3-2).
Backing either team for the straight win is a leap of faith but West Ham remain the more solid option, with Bilic having kept them hard to beat during this difficult period, and they are the choice with the draw as a safety net.
West Ham on Draw No Bet are 2.0421/20, which is not bad in view of the fact that three of their four defeats have been against sides currently above them in the table.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Under 2.5 goals is strong favourite at 1.75/7 and it is difficult to go against that, with both managers putting the emphasis on keeping the score low to achieve results.
Four of Villa's six games under Garde have had under 2.5 goals, while only one of West Ham's last seven have gone over 2.5 goals (compared with eight of the first 10 when they were scoring freely).
Under 1.5 goals has to be worth considering at 32/1, although that would be based mainly on West Ham's run of three consecutive goalless draws, which are their only results with under 1.5 goals (Villa have had five out of 17 under 1.5 goals; four out of eight at home).
Back West Ham on Draw No Bet at 2.0421/20 (1pt)
Staked: 55 pts
Returned: 49.09 pts
P/L: -5.91 pts