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Why Sheffield United Could Have The Last Laugh Over West Ham

John Dillon for Bookies.com

John Dillon  | 6 mins

Why Sheffield United Could Have The Last Laugh Over West Ham

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Who’s laughing now? Certainly not the West Ham United supporters who mocked Sheffield United in an echo of the infamous Carlos Tevez Affair at the London Stadium late last month.

A simple glance at the Premier League table will tell you why. The Blades, stone favourites for relegation at the start of the season, are riding high in fifth place – directly above Arsenal and Manchester United, no less.

The Hammers, by contrast, are 16th and plummeting which does not fit in at all well with the big pre-season idea that they were one of the coming forces in the land and might even gate-crash the top six.

Over-achievement. Under-achievement. That’s how this reads just now during the taking stock of the third international break of the campaign.

There are probably Blades fans – and perhaps their impressive boss Chris Wilder, too – who might bristle a little at the suggestion that this is more than should be expected of their team.

But there is no doubt that the rest of the game is greeting their elevation to these unexpected heights with nothing but admiration.

Unbeaten in the last five, they have yet to lose away from home in the league this season.

That undefeated run has included a statement 1-0 win at home against Arsenal and a 1-1 draw at Spurs last weekend as well as the 1-1 draw they secured at West Ham.

From 4/6 number one choice for the drop with Ladbrokes in pre-season, they are now the side fancied only as 10th across the board as most likely to tumble – at 7/1 with Ladbrokes and Betfair and 8/1 with Unibet.

Norwich, Southampton, Watford, Aston Villa, Newcastle, West Ham – yes West Ham – Burnley, Brighton and Crystal Palace are all now rated by the analysts as more feasible candidates for the trap-door than the Blades.

The Hammers crash stands out most strikingly amid these changes. At the end of August after a home win against Norwich, they were priced at 6/1 by William Hill for a top six finish. It seemed the pre-season optimism was justified.

Now they are a wide 30/1 for that bracket with Paddy Power and Betfair.

Blades Sixth Likely To Go Down

What is more, they are now priced as sixth most likely to be relegated at 5/1 with William Hill and 11/2 with Bet365 and Coral.

And London Stadium boss Manuel Pellegrini is third favourite to leave his managerial post next at 4/1 with William Hill and 5/1 with Coral – behind Southampton’s Ralph Hassenhutl and Unai Emery of Arsenal.

Dismally, Pellegrini’s side has not won in six league games since the false dawn of a 2-0 win at home against Manchester United which placed them fifth at the time.

The run has included miserable defeats by Everton, Crystal Palace, Newcastle and most pitifully, by 3-0 at Burnley last weekend. The murmurs of discontent about the manager’s methods have started.

For those in east London, the sense of deflation is nothing new. West Ham have often specialised in promising much and delivering little.

This is the club which somehow managed to finish 16th in the old Division One in season 1966-67. Yes, the one immediately after the heroics of the claret-and-blue trio of Bobby More, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters with England in the 1966 World Cup final.

Unfulfilled expectations are not uncommon in this part of the football world. Relegations and flirtations with the danger zone are commonplace, though.

It explains why a twinge of resentment surrounded the recent game against the Blades as part of the continuing fall-out from the events of 2006-07, when the goals of Carlos Tevez saved West Ham from the drop and Sheffield United went down instead.

It turned out that Tevez’s registration – and that of fellow Argentine Javier Mascherano – were against the rules because their careers were “part-owned” by third parties, as was common practice in South America at the time but not in England.

It had seemed too good to be true when two such established major internationals arrived at Upton Park. And in a way, it was.

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Clubs Headed in Different Directions

However, West Ham were never docked points but were hit with a massive £5.5 million fine instead for this major transgression. They stayed up. The Blades went down.

Even while West Ham then handed over the best part of £20 million in compensation to the Yorkshire club in the subsequent years, the wound did not fully heal.

Spool forward to last month and many home fans turned up for the match wearing masks depicting Tevez’s face. No opportunity for such rubbing of salt is ever missed in football.

Perhaps this one should have been, though. While West Ham have drifted, Wilder’s innovative use of the 3-5-2 formation, his confident defenders, his expressive midfielders and the sheer belief and determination he has instilled his side have driven United up the table.

Against this, Pellegrini’s team have been exposed as fragile and confused ever since first-choice goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski was injured last month.

The defence has collapsed and the early season promise of new striker Sebastien Heller and fellow forwards Andrei Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson has vanished.

Along with Leicester City, Wolves and Everton, West Ham were supposed to be storming the bastions of the elite.

Leicester, in second place, have managed it spectacularly. Wolves have steadied after some early struggles. But the Hammers and Everton have fallen short of those expectations.

Now the West Ham’s next four fixtures area against Tottenham, Chelsea, Wolves and Arsenal. If the poor run continues, Pellegrini surely won’t survive.

The Blades face Manchester United, Wolves, Norwich and Newcastle in the same spell. There seems no reason at present why there shouldn’t be a decent haul of points from those games.

The last laugh may be heard in Yorkshire, too, this season.

About the Author

John Dillon for Bookies.com
John Dillon
John Dillon is a freelance sports journalist covering, among other things, boxing and football. His work has appeared in The London Evening Standard and USA Today.