DUBAI // Despite three English Premier League victories in a row and the Dubai sun on their backs, Sam Allardyce insists his West Ham United players have no room to slack off in the battle against relegation.
Granted, Allardyce has afforded his squad a relatively relaxed mid-season trip to the UAE, but such is the congestion in the bottom half of England’s top tier that the hard work will continue once the players resume league duties against Southampton on February 22.
West Ham’s recent boom has lifted the London club to 11th in the table – they defeated Norwich 2-0 on Tuesday night before flying to Dubai – yet they sit four points above the relegation zone with 12 matches remaining.
Allardyce cites his side’s declining injury list, together with the loan recruitment last month of Antonio Nocerino, Marco Borrielo and Pablo Armero. While the Dubai camp acts as a reward for February’s fine form, it also provides the opportunity to help integrate the new additions into the squad as West Ham attempt to achieve their pre-season target of a top-10 finish.
Allardyce acknowledges that represents a difficult task, especially with the way the division has developed this season.
“It’s never been like this,” said the Englishman, speaking on the sideline as his team trained at Dubai Sports City. “There’s never, ever been 10 teams with still only four or five points between the bottom and 10th place, so it is one of those seasons we haven’t seen before.
“Realistically, we know at the end of the day you’ve got to get to 38 points at the very least [to survive], and more importantly, probably 40 this year. And the quicker and faster you do that, the more the lads ease the pressure they’re under and deliver better results.”
The results of the past few weeks have given reason for optimism. Since losing to Newcastle on January 18, a result that saw them drop into the relegation zone, West Ham’s league record features a draw at Chelsea and a trio of wins, and they arrive in Dubai on the back of successes against Aston Villa and Norwich.
It is the first time in almost seven years that the Upton Park side have won three in succession in the Premier League – their defence has not been breached in four matches – although Allardyce warned the pressure will persist right until the end of the 2013/14 season.
“It’s eased off somewhat to what it was, but you’d think 11th would be looking more comfortable than it is,” he said. “We’re only four points from the team that’s third from bottom, so we’ve still a lot to do.
“There’s a long way to go, but like I said to everybody back in England when we were in the bad time of results, they were bad because of the huge injury list we had.
“And now that the injury list has diminished, our results have improved dramatically. I said that would be the case, and the lads have proven that. Let’s hope it can continue from here on in.”
Allardyce says the past two weeks have not prompted a drastic revision of aspirations for the remainder of the season, but he hopes West Ham can still emulate last year’s 10th-place finish.
“Our target was 10th or better, really,” he said. “We had to modify that when we had our injury crop and our results have not followed the season before. But we’ll obviously try our best to get as close to 10th as we possibly can.”