Middlesbrough are once again without Ramirez and Barragan to injury, leaving the team worse off at both ends of the pitch, though the former is missed more for his attacking output. Bamford has signed for the club this week but will only make the bench, while Karanka could stick with the 3-5-2 system used last time out, with a couple of changes as Clayton and Fischer push for recalls. Home form has been hit and miss, with a lot of weight coming on the first goal. They’ve lost every time they’ve fallen behind, which will add pressure to the squad. They’ll see West Ham as beatable and have generally been very organised and disciplined, so will stick with the same style this time round. A draw isn’t a poor result, but at home they’ll be looking for a win to move away from danger. If they go behind the mentality of the players may change given their struggles when chasing this season. They aren’t a team blessed with goals and have generally ground out wins this season. They’ll try and control possession but scoring first is key if they are to win, giving them something to defend as they’ll drop in. It may not be high scoring, as if they do lead, a single goal is enough.
West Ham continue without Payet, who is refusing to play for the club. However the impact of his absence wasn’t felt last time out and Bilic is likely to name an unchanged 11, provided a couple of minor doubts to Reid, Feghouli and Carroll clear as expected. Kouyate remains at the African Nations, but all other absentees are fringe players not being missed, though squad depth is being impacted. Confidence in the group is decent and they feel that they can make the trip to Middlesbrough and win, even without Payet. In what could be a fairly cagey encounter a draw isn’t a poor outcome, but they’ll certainly have their eyes set on three points. Middlesbrough don’t score many, so if West Ham do get ahead they’d look at grinding out a narrow win, with a big margin of victory not likely. The game could be settled on fine margins and though West Ham’s own attacking output isn’t prolific, they’ve still scored in all but two of their away matches this season, giving them hope of overcoming a stubborn opponent. Depth in reserve is quite limited so if they do chase it’ll come down to those on the pitch to turn the game round, but from behind they’d be happy enough with a point.
Verdict & Prediction
Any sign of the Payet saga impacting the players was nowhere to be seen against Crystal Palace, as the squad put in a strong performance to make a statement that they can still win without their key man. They’ll come into the game with renewed belief, targeting another success. Away form has been very patchy this season, but with the incentive of a potential top half place with a win, there will be no shortage of motivation and belief in the squad. They wouldn’t be too unhappy with a draw, but will certainly see this as an opportunity to take three points on the road.
Prediction : West Ham +0.25 AH (if draw: half of a bet won, other half refunded)
Odds : 1.85 Pinnacle