Season preview: West Ham United
West Ham can look forward to life back in the Premier League after Sam Allardyce guided his side back to the top tier of English football at the first time of asking.
Last season was not as straightforward as many Hammers fans were expecting though, as they were forced to come through a tight play-off final with Blackpool after stumbling to third place in the Championship.
It was their home form that proved their Achilles heel last year, with West Ham held to far too many draws at Upton Park for a side that had invested heavily the previous summer.
A side containing the likes of Kevin Nolan, Carlton Cole, Rob Green and a host of others with Premiership experience should have perhaps beat Reading and Southampton to automatic promotion.
However, they had an indifferent second half to the season which saw them slip down the table and face the lottery of the play-offs.
Many supporters expressed their disappointment at the long-ball style of football played by Allardyce’s side, with older fans brought up on ‘pass and move’ style which West Ham have made their trademark over the years.
It is difficult to argue against the results, though, and it is too simplistic to suggest that West Ham simply lump it up to a big target man when they have fine footballers on their books such as Mark Noble and team captain Nolan.
These players have been joined by a host of new faces during this transfer window as Allardyce has opted to overhaul his squad in a similar way as he did last year.
Goalkeepers Jussi Jaaskelainen, Stephen Henderson and Raphael Spiegel have already joined during the off-season, along with defenders George McCartney and James Collins, midfielder’s Mohamed Diame and Alou Diarra, as well as striker Modibo Maiga.
Former Bolton star Jaaskelainen, a player who Allardyce worked with during his time at the Reebok, will help minimise the impact of Green’s departure, while Henderson and Spiegel are both promising players for the future.
Left-back McCartney and centre-back Collins have both had spells at Upton Park before and will be hoping their upcoming time with the club is as successful as the first.
Senegalese defensive-midfielder Diame and former Marseille star Diarra will both add bite to the centre of the park and will help free up the likes of Noble to dictate play from the middle of the park.
Further forward, Mali striker Maiga will challenge the likes of Carlton Cole and Ricardo Vaz Te for a starting berth up front.
They have also cut a lot of dead wood from their side, such as John Carew and Papa Bouba Diop, while Ravel Morrison may already be on his last chance to make a real impact on English football following his loan move to Birmingham City.
All in all it means that West Ham have strength in depth throughout their squad, ensuring that they should enjoy a successful return to the Premier League.
Expect West Ham to join the likes of Norwich, Reading, Southampton and Wigan in the relegation fight, but Allardyce’s experience coupled with the new signings should give them their edge over their rivals.
Hammers’ fans will take a 17th place finish now and I predict that they will finish just above the relegation zone before building for a long-term future in the Premiership.
Laurence Taylor, football correspondent