When you’re a punter, the early weeks of any season are always the hardest ones to assess and if ever a match summed this up, it is West Ham United’s visit to Carrow Road to face Norwich City in the Premier League’s first fixture of the weekend.
Even allowing for the anomalous results that can be thrown up after an international week (especially one that comes so annoyingly early in the campaign), form at the beginning of the season is always a notoriously untrustworthy source.
Results don’t always tell the whole story at any point, but certainly not as the season starts to flex its muscles and I look at Norwich and West Ham as proof of this.
Sam Allardyce takes his team to Carrow Road in seventh position, having won two of their three games, and points-wise, their return to the Premier League after a one-year absence has gone according to plan so far.
Norwich have won just three of their last 16 league games – a run that stretches back to last term under former boss Paul Lambert – and it makes the 5/4 too short to back.
After struggling at Upton Park in the Championship last year – the Hammers failed to win 12 of their home matches, the principal reason why they had to go through the play-offs to win promotion – two games on their own patch in the new campaign have yielded two victories.
Allardyce’s side are four points above winless Norwich, whose manager Chris Hughton is still searching for his first league triumph in charge (although the former Newcastle boss tasted victory against Scunthorpe in the Capital One Cup).
But have West Ham actually been any better than Norwich so far this season? The points for column suggests so, but I would argue that performance-wise, there hasn’t been much between the sides, which is why the 23/10 on the draw for this Saturday lunchtime kick-off is the most tempting price on offer.
Certainly more so than the 5/4 on Norwich, who look too short, and the 21/10 on West Ham, whose away record in the top flight has been poor for some time now, just like their results at Carrow Road over the years.
West Ham have been offered a dream fixture list on their return to to the Premier League, which is why I am not quite getting carried away with their good start.
Home games against an Aston Villa side who are evidently in transition and traditionally poor travellers Fulham are among the most winnable the Irons will face all year, and I won’t be kidded into thinking the Hammers are a good outfit just yet.
You only have to look at the way they were abjectly beaten at Swansea to see there are glaring flaws in their side, particularly at the back (where goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen especially is a liability) and I still see a season of struggle for West Ham, who I don’t think will get much change out of any of the top sides.
By contrast, Norwich have just two points, but should have had more than consecutive 1-1 draws at home to Queens Park Rangers and away to Tottenham Hotspur (their 5-0 shellacking at Fulham was the least they deserved) and they have not been playing like a team without a win so far this term.
But the fact is the Canaries are struggling to notch victories, and have been for some time. Norwich have won just three of their last 16 league games – a run that stretches back to last term under former boss Paul Lambert – and it makes the 5/4 too short to back.
City have a 3-5-3 record in their last 11 home league games and those wins came against relegated Wolves and Bolton, as well as Alex McLeish’s Aston Villa.
But their defeats came against the Manchester clubs and Liverpool, and they can avoid defeat when West Ham visit. The Hammers have won just once in their last ten Premier League trips, losing the last five without scoring, and I have no inclination to back them whatsoever.
So the draw is the answer, and 23/10 is the price.
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