THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Good start on Premier League return

icon westham20 October ~ It is a tribute to the solid start West Ham have made on their return to the Premier League this season that they have actually become a bit boring. Three wins, two draws and two defeats in their first seven games left Sam Allardyce's team in eighth place before the international break and they will be confident of another three points when Southampton visit today. After scraping through the play-off final against Blackpool in May, even the most optimistic Hammer would have been expecting little more than a season-long relegation fight.

Although that may still be the case, the opening salvos of the new campaign have suggested a decent mid-table finish should be within their reach. There's no doubt Allardyce was helped by a very gentle reintroduction to the top-flight. Before a 3-1 home defeat to Arsenal a fortnight ago, the Hammers had not faced any of last season's top eight sides in their opening six matches. But it would be wholly unfair to claim their relative success is just the result of a quirk in the fixture computer.

While some supporters may still grumble about the playing style, Allardyce has a proven track-record of keeping middle-ranking clubs safe from relegation. Once again he has built a squad with plenty of experience and, whisper it, a bit of flair. Goalkeeping veteran Jussi Jaaskelainen has proved a more than capable replacement for Rob Green, who must regret his decision to leave the club every extra minute he sits on the QPR bench, while Kevin Nolan is again proving how valuable a player he is.

Although Andy Carroll may have taken the headlines during the summer transfer window, it is Mohamed Diame, who arrived on a free transfer from Wigan, who has arguably had the biggest impact. The Senegalese midfielder has provided a dynamism in the middle of the field which was lacking last season.

Inevitably for an Allardyce team, West Ham's best route to goal still appears to be from a set-piece but there have been signs, particularly in the first half against QPR, that they also want to get it down on the floor and play. The re-signing of Yossi Benayoun and the club-record capture of Matt Jarvis have added finesse to the squad and the long-term absence of Ricardo Vaz Tê, who is facing three months out with a shoulder injury, could provide Benayoun the chance to re-establish himself.

Defeat to Arsenal in their last game showed that West Ham are nowhere near to challenging at the top table of the Premier League but the 2-1 victory five days earlier at Loftus Road proved they won't be relegation fodder either. A season of consolidation will not see the club splashed across the front pages but after the turbulent few years that's probably not a bad thing. Mark Segal

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