It was all plain sailing up until this point, but for the first time since becoming the main man, Steve Clarke is having to deal with a bit of adversity at West Bromwich Albion.
Of course, it happens to the best of them (hello, Arsene) and you’re not really a proper manager until you have suffered some sort of dodgy patch, but it is fair to say that Clarke is facing up to just that for the first time in his short managerial career.
The West Brom boss is not naïve enough to think it wouldn’t come – he’s been around the block enough times with top clubs as assistant to know better – but how he reacts to the situation will tell us a lot about what Clarke is made of.
Management is easy when you’re winning and everything is going well; lose three on the bounce like Clarke’s Baggies have done and all of a sudden, things look much more difficult.
Consecutive losses to Swansea City, Stoke City and Arsenal have halted West Brom’s unlikely march to the Champions League places and even if a bid for the top four over the course of the whole season was improbable, losing games so rapidly is always a worry no matter what your pre-season objectives.
Of course, there is no need for Clarke to panic. West Brom are still enjoying a great season, sitting in sixth place just a point behind fourth-placed Everton, a scenario beyond their wildest dreams coming into Christmas.
But the rot needs to be stopped sharpish and Clarke will no doubt see the visit of West Ham United as the perfect opportunity to do just that – although I may not agree with that assumption.
The Baggies are 19/20 to beat the Hammers, who are 14/5 to inflict a fourth straight defeat on Clarke. The draw is priced at 12/5, and I think a combination of the latter two could be the way to go here at 4/5.
If confidence in the West Brom ranks has taken a dent, then Big Sam’s mob are not the sort of team that you’d want coming to town.
Allardyce will stay true to form and pile as much pressure on the Baggies’ rearguard as he can by any means possible and I think the Hammers can get some success.
West Brom have only kept one clean sheet in their last 12 games, while West Ham have failed to find the net in just two of their last 13, one of which was away at Manchester United, when they were unlucky not to score.
It isn’t complicated, but Sam urges his teams to get it into the box as quickly and as often as possible, and the five goals they have scored in the last two fixtures against Chelsea and Liverpool show that it can work against the best defences.
They can certainly net at the Hawthorns, making life uncomfortable for a side that might just start to doubt themselves, and I think 19/20 is too short for West Brom to bounce back against a side who have picked up some good results on the road, winning at QPR and Newcastle while picking up a point at Stoke.
When the final points tallies are totted up, there probably won’t be a great deal between these sides – there are only four at the moment – and I think that West Ham can get a result, just as Stoke, a very similar side, did a fortnight ago.
I’m not all over the 14/5, but the 4/5 on the Hammers plus a goal is fine by me.