On their first day in the Championship since 2005, West Ham lost to Cardiff 1-0 thanks to an injury time goal from Kenny Miller.
Yet, of all the sides in the Championship, West Ham look most set to win the league by a mile—at least on paper. Of course, bear in mind we said the same thing about their chances of avoiding relegation last season, and we all know what happened with that.
Still, a number of pundits, including the Guardian’s John Ashdown, who called West Ham “a striker short of a 100-point side,” expect the Irons to bounce back immediately.
Here are 10 reasons the Hammers will roar back to the EPL.
With relegation certain by mid-May, pundits far and wide predicted a mass exodus. West Ham would be left a skeletal side, one with barely any strength.
Yet, as of this writing, Scott Parker, Robert Green, Carlton Cole, Mark Noble, James Tomkins and Freddy Piquionne, all predicted to be on their merry way post haste come the end of the season, remain at Upton Park.
Parker dismissed a transfer to Turkey and subsequent offers have yet to surface. A deal looked set to send Carlton Cole to Stoke City, but Cole rejected the move.
Although Demba Ba starts a new Premier League campaign with Newcastle this week, and Thomas Hitzlsperger, Lars Jacobsen and Matthew Upson were released from their contracts, the core of West Ham remains intact.
While the majority of the old guard failed to live up to expectations under the lackluster management of Avram Grant, expect the new gaffer to light a fire under their tails that sends the Hammers straight back into the top flight.
In truth, two new guards exist at West Ham.
The first comprises all the new players brought in during the summer transfer window, including such proven talents as Kevin Nolan, Abdoulaye Faye and Matt Taylor.
The second constitutes players coming up through the West Ham Academy. This includes players like James Tomkins, Freddie Sears and Zavon Hines, who received some play in the EPL last season, and the newest generation of Academy talent, such as Robert Hall and Blair Turgott.
Expect the arrival, emergence and maturation of these players to inject a new energy, purpose and passion into the squad that will see West Ham claim the Championship title with ease.
With the exception of Demba Ba’s heroic efforts in the run-up to relegation, West Ham failed miserably going forward last season.
Carlton Cole led scoring with 11 goals across all competitions, though he only managed a measly five in league play. Freddy Piquonne scored nine across all competitions, with six league goals, and Scott Parker scored another five league goals.
All told, West Ham’s top five scorers managed 27 league goals. Take away Demba Ba and you have 20 between the other four, fewer than either Tevez or Berbatov managed alone.
Thus far during the 2011 summer transfer window, West Ham has brought in Kevin Nolan and John Carew. Nolan managed 12 league goals at Newcastle during the 2010-11 season and scored a whopping 17 in his last Championship season.
Carew, who signed on Saturday and missed Sunday’s game, scored 48 goals in 119 matches at Aston Villa over four seasons, proving himself a reliable, consistent threat.
Both of these men stand primed to rack up double-digit goal totals this season, while wreaking serious havoc upon the Hammers’ competition. This increased threat moving forward will prove instrumental in West Ham’s title race.
West Ham’s offense didn’t do much for the squad last year, but the defense failed the team miserably.
Robert Green is a very good, if not great, goalkeeper, and he looked like a complete ass for most of 2010-11. Wayne Bridge, Lars Jacobsen, Manuel Da Costa and Matthew Upson did little more than stand around looking foolish as opposition offenses blazed past and rained shots at goal.
James Tomkins, West Ham’s sole defensive light of last season, now stands in a center-defense position alongside Senegalese international Abdoulaye Faye, formerly of Stoke City. Faye is a rock-solid defender and a great addition to the team.
The summer transfer window also saw the arrival of young Irishman Joey O'Brien, capable of playing central defense and as a defensive midfielder. Congolese international left-back Hérita Ilunga and French right-back Julien Faubert also return.
The only real loss to West Ham’s defense comes in the form of youngster Jordan Spence, currently on a season-long loan to Bristol City.
With Green still in goal and proven talent on the back-line, the Hammers have the defensive clout required to roar back to the EPL.
Apart from the odd cross thrown in by Gary O’Neil or Wayne Bridge, West Ham displayed practically no wide play last season. In fact, the team has lacked presence on the wings since the loss of Matthew Etherington 2009.
If nothing else, this goes to show the complete hopelessness of the Avram Grant situation.
While he had Pablo Barrera, Thomas Hitzlesperger, Robbie Keane and Victor Obinna at his disposal, all perfectly capable of spreading play across the pitch, Grant allowed his team to be bottled into difficult, centralized positions with little movement for much of last season.
The team now possesses the talent of former Bolton winger Matthew Taylor, and Sam Allardyce’s inclusion of Pablo Barrera as a substitute in the loss to Cardiff shows his desire to give West Ham more movement and space on the pitch by playing a wide offense.
This new style of play will not only increase West Ham’s chances of reclaiming a spot in the top flight, it stands to greatly please fans who suffered through completely stifled, uninspired play under Avram Grant.
West Ham possessed very little depth during the 2010-11 season.
An injury to any key player meant the presence of a drastically less-talented man in his place on the pitch. The sole exception came compliments of Avram Grant’s striker dilemma, which left him with five great options, all of which he ballsed up.
Thanks to the signings made by Sam Allardyce during the summer transfer window, West Ham possesses significantly more depth as a team.
Up front, the Hammers boast John Carew, Carlton Cole, Freddy Piquionne, Freddy Sears, Zavon Hines and, on the wings, Pablo Barrera and Matthew Taylor.
In the midfield, the team can call upon both Kevin Nolan and Scott Parker, arguably the two best midfielders in the Championship, with the option of Mark Noble, Joey O’Brien, Gary O’Neil and Welsh international Jack Collison, a product of the West Ham Academy.
The list goes on.
This new depth of talent gives the Hammers an expanded palate of options when facing opponents with differing strategies and strengths, and provides insurance in the event that a key player suffers injury.
In addition to deepening its talent pool during the 2011 transfer window, West Ham expanded its talent pool a great deal.
The team suffered from a lack of diversity in the backline last year, with very little movement and creativity on the part of its right and left backs. It can now call upon proven talent in those positions.
In the midfield, Sam Allardyce can put emphasis on either Kevin Nolan or Scott Parker as the primary playmaker, both excellent players with very different styles.
With the addition of Matthew Taylor and Pablo Barrera’s upgrade from the reserve squad, the side now has the option of playing with two wingers and a central striker.
Or, with Carew, Cole and Piquionne, with two or three central strikers and support from Nolan in an attacking position from midfield.
The addition of Joey O’Brien adds the possibility of a deep-lying distributor creating movement behind Parker while bolstering the defense. All of this adds up to a much greater degree of diversity than the Hammers have boasted in some time.
West Ham has a new captain in the 2011-12 season, and that man is Kevin Nolan.
Nolan is an indispensable player for a team like the Hammers. He led Newcastle into the EPL from the Championship and helped the team to a 12th place finish in its first season back. He possesses the skill, experience, passion and leadership to rally the team around him.
On the pitch, Nolan plays attacking football, mixing technical skill and creativity in the midfield with strong forward drive and a proven ability to score more goals than the strikers on his team.
What’s more, the presence of Nolan in the midfield will free Parker from the burden of scoring goals, allowing him to focus exclusively on creativity, organization and ball movement, all strengths of his.
Nolan is a fantastic addition to the squad and may well be the key factor in whether West Ham regains promotion.
Sam Allardyce is everything West Ham needs right now, and ultimately everything the team needed for the past two seasons.
Why David Sullivan and David Gold slept on hiring Allardyce to replace the obviously overwhelmed and under-prepared Avram Grant will probably remain a mystery until the end of time, but the fact remains that he’s the new Hammers manager and is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Big Sam brings stability to his teams, and respectable table positions. He manages men well, approaches the game with purpose and confidence and brings a distinct, established footballing philosophy with him to Upton Park.
Allardyce doesn’t suffer fools and will resist meddling from the ownership. What's more, he forms strong relationships with his players, as evidenced by the fact that Nolan followed him into the Championship from a successful EPL squad.
Under the guidance of Big Sam and the leadership of Kevin Nolan, West Ham will develop confidence, maturity, coherence and heart. The team will bounce back without a problem.
To get down to brass tacks, West Ham rarely lingers long in the Championship.
Since the 1950’s, the team has been outside the top flight four times, for periods of three, two, one and two seasons respectively. Historically speaking, West Ham is a team you can’t keep down for long.
The passion of the fans inspires only the best in the men on the pitch when west Ham faces spells in the Championship.