Jaymes Monte previews this Saturday lunchtime kick off as Sam Allardyce takes his Sunderland side back to the club that unceremoniously sacked him last summer...
"It’s easy to look at Sunderland’s defensive record, particularly away from home, and suggest that this looks a shoo-in for goals. But the arrival of Kone and the effect that having a solid unit alongside him has had on John O’Shea is significant."
West Ham v Sunderland
Saturday February 27, 12:45
Live on BT Sport 1
The Hammers are unbeaten in their last 10 Premier League home games and come into this weekend's match on the back of an emphatic 5-1 FA Cup win over Blackburn last Sunday. That victory at Ewood Park was, however, only the second win (in 90 minutes) in their last eight matches in all competitions, with the only other win in that period coming against doomed Aston Villa.
That's not to suggest that the Hammers will be in any way disappointed with their current form or the way that the season has gone. When Sam Allardyce was sacked last summer after developing West Ham into an established top-flight team, it did appear a little harsh looking in from the outside. But the appointment of Slaven Bilic has been absolutely vindicated over the past six months. The Londoners are beginning to look more and more like a genuine top-six team with each passing week.
Dimitri Payet now has three goals in his last two games, while Emmanuel Emenike scored a brace at Ewood Park at the weekend on his first start for the club and could well prove to be another shrewd bit of business. Bilic now has a whole arsenal of offensive weaponry at his disposal.
The Wearsiders have enjoyed a 10-day break in Dubai since beating Manchester United at the Stadium of Light a fortnight ago, and it will be interesting to see how that rest and recuperation will affect the Black Cats in the final stretch of the season. Almost since his very first day at the club Allardyce has been waxing lyrical about the positive effects that this mid-season jaunt would have on his players, now they must vindicate their manager.
In addition, I'm also almost certain that Allardyce still bears a grudge about the way that he was forced out of Upton Park last season, and for that reason it would be particularly sweet for him to pick up the three points in East London this weekend.
All sentiment and off-the-field matters aside, Sunderland fans do now have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about their chances of survival this season. The 2-1 win against Manchester United was undoubtedly one of their best performances of the season, and January signings Lamine Kone and Wahib Khazri both look to be very good acquisitions.
West Ham are strong favourites for this one, and deservedly so at a price of around 1.875/6. But despite how good the Hammers have been this season, and they have been very good, I'm reluctant to suggest a bet on them this weekend.
This probably isn't the sort of analysis that you were looking for from a betting preview, but I just get a feeling that the Black Cats will get something from this game. Recent performances have been good, they're well-rested and I don't think we should underestimate the Allardyce factor here. He has a habit of getting results in 'grudge' matches and this is one that will be particularly meaningful to the 61-year-old.
I'm not going to suggest backing the visitors for the win at odds of 5.04/1, but a Lay of West Ham at the 1.875/6 currently available looks a good play.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
It's easy to look at Sunderland's defensive record, particularly away from home, and suggest that this looks a shoo-in for goals. But the arrival of Kone and the effect that having a solid unit alongside him has had on John O'Shea is significant.
In addition, West Ham's defence can be one of the most stubborn in the Premier League and so, unfortunately for the neutrals, I feel that we're in for a slightly dull and drab Saturday afternoon match. Take the 1.9720/21 about this fixture producing no more than two goals.
To further back up my thoughts that this could be a one for the purists, I'm going to have a play on the 0-0 selection in the Correct Score market at odds of 13.012/1. The Hammers are most effective on the counter attack and I expect Sunderland to come here and soak up the pressure on the edge of their own box, thus nullifying Slaven Bilic's men's strongest weapon. It won't be pretty, but Sunderland will be well-drilled for this one.
2pts Back Under 2.5 Goals @ 1.9720/21
1pt Lay West Ham to win @ 1.875/6
Jaymes Monte 2015/16 Season P/L
Staked: 129 pts
Returned: 127.69 pts
P/L: -1.31 pts