I watched West Ham’s FA Cup fourth round match with more interest than usual, given that Bristol City have long been my nearest Football League side geographically. And while it was not the most thrilling encounter in West Ham’s history, the win provided us with the perhaps the best opportunity in recent years to bring the FA Cup back to Upton Park.
It was a passing comment from one Bristol City fan to another not long after Diafra Sakho’s winning header that developed my interest in writing this particular article. Sipping his Guinness the man in question turned away from the screen towards his friends and said:
“West Ham are playing sh*t and are still going to beat us!”
A familiar saying used to be associated with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in title winning seasons, particularly towards the end of his tenure. Pundits from BBC, ITV and Sky Sports would regularly spew a variation of the now clichéd “They’ve played badly and still won. That’s the hallmark of a very good team.”
It’s a phrase I’ve associated with West Ham during a number of fixtures this season and it pinpoints the single greatest difference in the side to the forgettable campaign that was last season; the ability to win.
Sunday’s 1-0 victory over an energetic Bristol City completely optimises this theory. We’ve seen it in a number of Premier League fixtures as well. QPR at home springs to mind and more recently the first half display against Hull City.
Each of these games has not seen West Ham play to the standard that the Boleyn Ground faithful expect, especially this season which has been privy to some excellent performances.
But despite the, at times, dismal efforts of the side, West Ham have still won the majority of their matches. As the theory goes, does this now make the Hammers a ‘good side’?
The Hammers are on course for a season that will eclipse the last, and the mathematics prove that since last season there has been a significant improvement in the team’s efforts.
West Ham have taken the lead in sixteen (16) of their fixtures this season. Of those they have ended up winning 11 of those games. In the five others three ended as draws (Home v West Brom, Away v Everton in the FA Cup, Away v Swansea,) and only one has resulted in a loss in ninety minutes (Home v Southampton). The other was the defeat on penalties to Sheffield United in the third round of the Capital One Cup.
At this stage last season West Ham had only taken the lead in twelve of their games and from those winning positions only picked up six victories.
The difference sounds vast and West Ham’s ability to win from winning positions really shows between the two seasons when written as a percentage. The 2013-2014 campaign until the end of January saw a 50% win ratio from games that the Hammers scored the first goal. The current season, meanwhile holds a 68% win ratio when West Ham netted before their opposition.
And it’s not just from scoring the first goal that a significant improvement is found in West Ham this season.
This time last season the Hammers had gone behind in twelve (12) games. The only time West Ham came from behind to claim victory was in the 2-1 win at Tottenham in the Capital One Cup quarter-final.
Simply put, West Ham did not claim any points from a losing position in the league before this time last season. All of the eleven losses came from games in which the opposition scored the first goal.
This season West Ham have conceded the first goal in nine games. Of those nine they have gone to claim points in five of those fixtures, winning twice and drawing three.
In other words, West Ham have not lost over half the game in which they conceded the first goal of the match.
Clearly the side has improved immensely in the last season. The performances on the pitch spell a decent campaign in the making, while the maths only backs up our dreams.