THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Two clubs find themselves in relegation battle

icon relegation1231 January ~ The build up to Swansea's trip to West Ham tomorrow will no doubt focus on the clash in playing styles and philosophy. The hosts, purveyors of "19th century football" according to José Mourinho this week, take on visitors who were until recently media darlings for the way they are run. Whatever the contrast in styles however, one thing is certain: this is a relegation battle. Both clubs will at least have been heartened by midweek results. For a West Ham team humiliated in cup games at Nottingham Forest and Manchester City, a clean sheet at Chelsea will bring much needed confidence.

The Hammers have also benefited from the return of Andy Carroll. In contrast Swansea must wait at least another week before the return of their talisman striker as Michu is certain to miss out. The continued absence of a player so crucial to success last season has been offset in part by the goals of Wilfried Bony, who has six in the last six league and cup games. Michu is one of a number who have been missing through injury recently and it is no coincidence that Tuesday's 2-0 defeat of Fulham coincided with the return of several key players.

Michael Laudrup's relaxed manner has drawn criticism from supporters who have watched their team slowly slip down the table. Negative media reports have fuelled rumours of a split between the Spanish players and their team-mates, highlighted by a training ground argument between centre-backs Chico Flores and Garry Monk. Some light relief was unintentionally found in the statement released by the club which included the following quote from Monk: "Yes, we had words, but at no time was I threatened with a brick by anyone". That's OK, then.

Despite the heavy cup defeats, West Ham's main problem has been scoring goals rather than conceding. Surprisingly for a team in the relegation zone, they join Arsenal in having the most Premier League clean sheets this season. Sam Allardyce knows the fans will quickly turn on him again if they fail to threaten Swansea and Laudrup will plan to retain possession and frustrate the home side. You suspect that this is a game where the first goal, if there is to be one at all, will be crucial.

A draw will benefit Swansea much more. Given their recent history at the Boleyn Ground, where they haven't won in their last ten attempts, it may be the best they can hope for. West Ham need the win but given their scoring record it is hard to look beyond a repeat of the 0-0 draw between the teams earlier in the season. Paul Ashley-Jones

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