West Ham v Sunderland
Live on Sky Sports 1
Eight league and cup games without a win and just one win in 12 Premier League matches has seen West Ham's season fade from extremely encouraging to distinctly nondescript. The Hammers now sit in 10th position in the Premier League table with 39 points. No longer good enough to challenge for a place in next season's Europa League, but with sufficient points on the board to ensure that there is no danger of slipping into a relegation battle.
The upshot of it all is that Sam Allardyce is unlikely to be offered a new contract when his current one expires in the summer, and, as fate would have it, could well be in line to become the next permanent manager of Sunderland.
Oh what Sunderland and their fans would give to see this season fading away into mid-table obscurity. Gus Poyet's days on Wearside have looked to be numbered for sometime now, and after allowing Aston Villa to double their away goals tally in the space of 45 minutes at the Stadium of Light on Saturday - just a month after affording QPR their only away win of the season - his sacking was inevitable.
Dick Advocaat has since been brought in on a temporary basis until the end of the season. Although a man with plenty of experience and a solid CV, his lack of Premier League experience is of some concern. But at least his stature in the game will command the respect of an, allegedly, unruly bunch of players.
His biggest task will be to get a team that have scored only once in six matches back amongst the goals. January signing Jermain Defoe hasn't netted in five games since early February, while Steven Fletcher, Danny Graham and Connor Wickham have scored a combined total of just one goal in 2015.
Of course West Ham, especially being the home team, should be favourites here. But whether they should be odds-on favourites is up for debate.
The bare form figures actually favour Sunderland slightly - although both teams are in pretty dire straits - and had West Ham not enjoyed the extremely good start to the season that they did, then I have no doubt that the betting would be a lot closer.
The question, therefore, is how much emphasis do we put on early season form, and how much should be focussed on more recent performances and results?
We also need to factor in the effect that a new manager will have on the Black Cats and assume that they simply cannot be as bad as they were in that opening 45 minutes against Villa last weekend.
It may well be stretching assumptions a little too far to conclude that Advocaat will be able to wave a magic wand and turn a hapless group of players into one capable of going to Upton Park and taking all three points. But, given that they've been so adept at earning draws so far this season anyway, it would be far from ridiculous to suggest that The Hammers are too short at 1.8810/11 and that a Lay of the hosts is a sensible play; all things considered.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
As mentioned above, the biggest problem that Advocaat will need to address is in front of goal. And it's a quandary that the man in the opposite dugout can sympathise with. The Hammers have managed to score just four goals in their last eight games, failing to find the back of the net in five of those fixtures. While the absence of Enner Valencia, Andy Carroll and Carlton Cole only serves to compound the problem. As a result, Under 2.5 goals looks to be a generously backable price at odds of 1.8810/11.
If there are to be goals, however, one has to assume that Jermain Defoe will be amongst them. Prior to his arrival on Wearside the former England international had scored on debut for every one of his former clubs - at Sunderland he would have to wait until game three.
With a new manager at the helm to impress and a likely shake up in tactics and attitude amongst the players, this could well take on the feeling of a debut of sorts. Add into the mix the fact that Defoe is also lining up against one of his former clubs and one gets the feeling that the stars are aligning. Take a chance on him finding the back of the net this weekend at odds of 4.03/1.
3pts Lay West Ham @ 1.8810/11
2pts Back Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.8810/11