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Friday, 23 January 2015

The Inside Line: Bristol City v West Ham United (25/01/2015)

So here it is. All our efforts, strains and tribulations in the cup competitions over the past two months boils down to two big televised matches in the next five days.

Amazingly five of our last 11 games have been non-league encounters (that will be seven in 13 after Thursday) and our reward is a never-better chance to reach Wembley on Thursday which follows a very rare national TV showing on the BBC as they sniff an F.A.Cup upset.

Ultimately, given the start we made in going unbeaten until November and in the top two for the whole season to date, promotion, perhaps only the title in fact will measure the success of this season, and is rightly the main focus. But if we can add some cream on top of that by winning a trophy and knocking Big Sam’s Happy Hammers out of the cup in front of eight million viewers on Sunday afternoon, then that will do very nicely indeed!

Bearing in mind this is a club whose stock in the last few years has fallen so dramatically that we all get excited when we’re trending on Twitter, one thing you can guarantee is that for a couple of hours at least, our club, our part-demolished stadium and the players who have provided us with such joy and excitement so far this season will be the most-talked about topic on many people’s favourite social media site.

So, can we win? Of course we can. Anyone can beat anyone on their day and given the season we’re having and the confidence flowing through the squad, we stand a real chance. However this is not the East London side that got demolished in Nottingham 12 months ago. As alluded to below, West Ham are probably one of the few teams who can point to a raft of summer signings that have made the same sort of impact as City’s Special Seven, all of whom have made significant contributions to our success.

And because of that, despite all the positivity, the Premier League side remain rightful favourites, but if anyone is thinking along the same lines of Phil Neville and assuming West Ham are already in round five, then hopefully they’re sadly mistaken.

Of all the games we’ll play this season, this is perhaps the one to relax a bit and try to enjoy, although having seen enough of Cotterill’s approach to games this year, I can’t see him sending his XI out with that attitude.

Let’s put on a show, let’s give them a game and maybe, 21 years to the day of our most famous F.A.Cup win, we might just pull off a result to impress the nation.

To give you an insight into West Ham’s season, Stu Radnedge caught up with Tom Victor, a Hammers fan who has contributed to these pages before with these thoughts on then-new signing Sam Baldock.

Tom is editor of www.bettinginstinct.com, and has written for a variety of sites including The False Nine, Just Football and Football's A Country. Follow him on Twitter @tomvictor and read his personal blog at http://peleconfidential.net/

“I probably speak for most West Ham fans when I say this season has exceeded expectations. An all claret-and-blue relegation trio looked very possible back in August, and to be effectively safe from the drop already was unthinkable.

It's even more surprising considering the turnaround of players over the summer. Most clubs might have had teething problems after bringing in nine players in one window and losing almost as many (although no first team regulars left East London), but we've looked significantly stronger in all departments.

The new signings have settled in well, especially forwards Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia and loanees Alex Song and Carl Jenkinson, who will ideally join permanently in the summer. But the best new addition has arguably been attacking coach Teddy Sheringham (whose appointment the manager appeared to agree to under duress).

With Sheringham at the club, there's been a much greater attacking impetus and a flair we haven't really seen since Gianfranco Zola's first season as manager. It helped that Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan were out for the early part of the season, forcing Sam Allardyce's hand somewhat, and we've reverted to type a bit since their return. Still, the midfield diamond has worked well this year with Stewart Downing in a freer role and full-backs Jenkinson and Aaron Cresswell bombing forward in a manner which last year's incumbents Guy Demel and George McCartney were physically incapable of.

Downing was quietly impressive last season, but this year he's really stood out and his run and finish to clinch victory last weekend shows the damage he can do in his more central role. In the early part of the season, with Downing, Sakho and Valencia starting in a front three, there was a real fluidity that was lacking last season when the likes of Carlton Cole and Modibo Maïga found themselves leading the line.

It's because of our league position that I expect a relatively strong XI to start at Ashton Gate. Well, that and the repercussions of Allardyce's efforts to blood a few youngsters against Nottingham Forest in last year's FA Cup - that 5-0 defeat would have been a low point of most seasons, though somehow we managed worse last year.

We were pretty much at full-strength for the Third Round replay against Everton, though James Collins and James Tomkins both limped off in the last league game against Hull and it looks like at least one of the two will be missing on Sunday. Canada international Doneil Henry could make his debut, and I also wouldn't be surprised if Morgan Amalfitano gets a start after his goal last weekend.

Sakho is also out with a back problem that's been troubling him since the autumn, and Cheikh Kouyaté is away with Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations, meaning Nolan's suspect fitness could be put to the test again - his tendency to drift forward is definitely something for City to exploit. Alternatively, this could be an opportunity to see Diego Poyet start for the first time in 2015 - he's still young but has looked assured whenever he's been on the pitch.

I was surprised by Bristol City's struggles in 2013-14 and it seems like you're back where you ought to be given the talent and squad depth. I've seen them play a few times in the last couple of years, but not since Matt Smith came in, and it seems like he's made a real difference after a tricky spell at the tail end of last year.

West Ham don't exactly have the defensive solidity with which Allardyce has been associated in the past, so there could well be goals in this one. Saying that, I remember our last league meetings in the Championship in 2011-12 and I think both sides will hope to see more of a spectacle this time around.”

My huge thanks to Tom and to Stu.

Here we go – COYR!

The Exiled Robin

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