Hammers face new boys in season opener

Posted by Peter Thorne

West Ham's season opener against newly-promoted Cardiff City won't seem such a huge leap for the Hammers faithful. In fact, at home to the 'Bluebirds' was the same opening game in the Championship season in 2011/12 - a match that ended in a solitary goal defeat for the Irons, but a result which came back to haunt the Welsh team when they were paired up against a determined West Ham in the Play-off semi-finals later that campaign.

When the official season fixture list is announced, I'm sure everyone has their reasons for trying to tie down what initially looks to be an arbitrary set of dates. For me, after the opening game, I look to see where the Boxing Day match will be (home v Arsenal), what match will be taking place closest to my birthday (FA Cup Fifth Round) and - being a Hammer and therefore a pessimist - glance nervously to see how the season run-in looks in case a relegation scrap is on the cards. With five of the last eight games against what is likely to be teams in the top six, said run-in looks pretty tough.

It's been acknowledged by manager Sam Allardyce that he 'blocks' a series of matches and estimates the number of points he requires from each block. Working on the fixture list in the manner that Big Sam probably is - although I suspect he may be on a beach somewhere doing it! - fans would surely be looking for a good opportunity to put some points on the board fairly quickly.

In their first six matches, only Everton - a Hammers bogey side - are a team who didn't finish below West Ham last season. Early October sees difficult games away to Tottenham and home to Manchester City, but then comes another block of games that supporters will consider 'winnable' before a late November match-up with Chelsea and a fairly intense December period.

Of course, pride comes before a fall and if anyone outside the top six has learnt anything over the years then it will surely be that the rest of the league is made up of games just as easily lost as won. Nevertheless, after a comfortable mid-table position last season, there's little doubt that the signing of Andy Carroll and possibly another striker has given most fans the suggestion that the Hammers can at least hold their own, maybe even push on a bit.

If there are any concerns looking at the fixtures then - and let's not forget this is the time when every game looks fraught with danger! - it might be that, in that early part of the season when odd results are often thrown up, West Ham have a good number of games they might otherwise have hoped to pick up points from. But if the Hammers can negotiate the first five or six weeks successfully then the thing that traditionally every team wants - a good start - could be on the cards.

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