I would contend that for teams whose only aim is to stay up 'gentle' starts don't exist. There are just runs of potentially winnable matches and others of matches where every point is a bonus. Since to stay up a team like West Ham has to take most of its points from its 'peers', the early fixtures they have had were a double-edged sword. They could easily not have taken anything like 11 points, because their opponents would also think of games against them as 'winnable'. As a supporter of a similar team in Italy, I prefer every sequence of games to be a mixture of those against the big boys and those against our peers.