Know Your Opponent: An Interview With Iain Dale of West Ham 'Til I Die

Jamie McDonald

A local derby last week is followed immediately by another as Spurs' greatest rivals from the East return with a grudge to the Lane. Here's how the other side feel about the tie.

When he isn't appearing on TV as one of the UK's best known-political commentators, broadcasting on LBC and running a publishing company, Iain Dale manages the excellent fan blog WestHamTilIDie.com. After putting aside some time to chat to me the first of these features that I ever ran last season, Iain was on hand once again this time out to chat to me about how he views the chances of his boyhood club against the new-look Spurs in this weekend's tie.

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EF: Let's start with a very brief retrospective- what did you make of West Ham's comeback Premier League campaign last time out? What was the season high, and the season low?

ID: It was far more successful than any of us could have hoped for. To finish tenth was way better than I expected, and frankly it could have been higher had we managed to score any goals away from home. The highlight was the development of the central defensive partnership of Winston Reid and James Collins. At one point, quite a way into the season we had one of the best defensive records in the league. The lowlight was the injury to Andy Carroll. Carroll was fantastic in the games he played and was man of the match in a lot of them. Even when he doesn't score he brings so much to the team.

EF: We are now 6 games into Sam Allardyce's sophomore season with the Hammers. Whilst things haven't quite gone as south as they have for Fulham, Palace and Sunderland (and arguably for Newcastle, who've copped a few batterings already despite their two wins), I think it's probably fair to say that the side haven't hit the ground running as well as they did last time out. What for you has been the main issue thus far? Is it just the simple lack of Andy Carroll's presence and the absence of a decent stand-in, or do the problems run deeper than that?

ID: How can any side expect to do well without a striker? I still cannot believe that we didn't get proper backup for Carroll, who always has been an injury prone player. We could have had Bony, or any number of other players, but to get to the end of the transfer window with only Modibo Maiga as a recognised striker was just madness. We now have Mladen Petric, and I suspect he will play on Sunday, but is he really the class of player we need? No. We should have brought Jermain Defoe back to where he belongs! In every other part of the pitch we're playing well, but in the end, if you don't convert your chances you're always going to struggle.

EF: Rolling it back to the summer, do you think the squad was adequately upgraded in preparation for this new season? Which areas do you think were best tended to, and which if any were left lacking? Who do you think was Allardyce's bargain coup? And could any of West Ham's Academy players possibly make the jump to the seniors this year to patch any unfixed holes?

ID: If Carroll had remained fit I'd have been happy with the signings. We have a decent number two goalkeeper in Adrian from Spain. Razvan Rat looks a decent attacking left back and Stewart Downing will hopefully build on the brilliant form he showed in his first appearance. But it is Ravel Morrison that is exciting us most. This boy is the real deal and if he keeps his head together we could have a world beater on our hands.

EF: Moving forwards to the weekend tie. Spurs and West Ham played out two of our season's most entertaining fixtures last season, with the second requiring a once-in-a-lifetime strike from Gareth Bale to secure the three points in an incredibly open and close match. Obviously with Bale gone now, the complexion of this weekend's game is going to be very different. But is there still anything Big Sam can take away from last season's encounters to inform his approach to the game?

ID: Unfortunately I wasn't at that game but I did see it on TV afterwards and I am still at a loss to know how we came out of that with nothing. I thought we played you off the park at times, but it was just like the 2006 cup final when Stevie Gerrard proved to be the matchwinner. This time it was Gareth Bale. Your team has changed so much since that game that I am not sure Sam Allardyce will have learned a lot from it.

EF: With the resources at hand, how do you see Allardyce lining up his side against Spurs? Are there any tweaks you personally think he should make if he wants to go for all three points at the Lane?

ID: With the exception of Andy Carroll, he's got everyone available for the first time for a long time. I don't see him taking many risks, though. Joe Cole and Stewart Downing have come back from their injuries and I imagine they will be on the bench. Jussi will be in goal with a back four of Joey O'Brien (hugely underrated), Rat, Reid and Collins. Diame has been playing out on the right in midfield to accommodate Ravel Morrison and he will line up alongside Noble and Nolan in central midfield, with Matt Jarvis on the left. I can't think Maiga's services will be retained so I imagine either Petric or Vaz Te will take the striker's role.

EF: Who do you think the dangerman will be for both sides?

ID: Morrison for us, Defoe for you. He always scored against us.

EF: Looking ahead to the rest of the season, what ideally do you think West Ham should be looking to achieve in the League and cup competitions they'll be taking part in this season?

ID: We're doing OK in the League Cup and we have Burnley next so we have high hopes of getting further in that. I think we'd all be delighted by a finish of 10th, but there is still a mentality that says we'll settle for 17th! It's a time of transition for West Ham as we look forward to the Olympic Stadium. Being involved in a fight against relegation is unthinkable, but obviously possible. My gut instinct is that without Carroll we'll struggle to make 10th and that 14th is probably about the best we can hope for.

EF: Obviously it's still too early to say anything definitive yet, but under what circumstances do you think the board will start to look past Allardyce and over at new options? Does he deserve extra patience for getting the side up and for securing a strong run last season, or do you think these decisions have to follow the results of the present?

ID: Allardyce has proved himself and the only way he will leave in the immediate future is if we are relegated. Even then I wouldn't put money on it. The players like him and he has created a real sense of team spirit, which had been badly lacking. He is far from the long ball merchant he is painted as. The good thing is that this West Ham team can mix it up if they need to. We can still play the pretty stuff, but we're also capable of being physical when we need to.

EF: Finally, could I trouble you for a score prediction?

ID: My heart says we'll sneak it 1-0 but my head says you'll win 2-0. So 1-1 then!

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