Fan Focus: Hammertime With Opta's Mark Segal

Richard Heathcote

We get a little bit nerdy in this week's Fan Focus as we chat with Opta's Product Manager and former football editor of ITV.com, Mark Segal (@SegalMark). Not to mention he's a huge fan of West Ham United...

West Ham seem to be exceeding all expectations so far this season. What were your hopes, and did you think you would be doing so well?

Mark Segal: At the start of the season I was pretty confident we would stay up. Sam Allardyce built his reputation around keeping teams in the Premier League and although we only went up through the play-offs we had a pretty decent squad. We were also helped by an easy-ish start to the season which allowed us to win a few games and for the players to pick up some confidence. That said, before the win against Norwich on New Year's day a number of us were looking over our shoulders fearing we could be drawn into the relegation battle

Big Sam wasn't, I think it's fair to say, everyone's first choice for the job when he took over. Are your fans warming to him now? And do you think he's the man for the job in the future?

MS: I think everyone accepted that we needed a manager who could sort out a team which had been so badly relegated under Avram Grant and Allardyce was the best man available at the time. And he proved it by taking us back up. Some of the football we played last season wasn't very pretty and at times the fans let the manager know but this was also a reaction to the fact we weren't winning games. This season it's still not pretty to watch but we are getting results so everyone is happy. But I still think it's a marriage of convenience. If results go badly he'll be given less time to get it right, while I'm sure he wouldn't miss a heartbeat if he was offered a job at a bigger club.

What can we expect from the Hammers in the transfer window? Who will be coming in and going out, and what do you make of Joe Cole's return to the club?

MS: You could tell from the reaction of the crowd on Saturday that we are delighted to have Joe Cole back. We know he's not the same player he was but it's great to see a player who came through your youth system playing for the club. That said, the main priority in the window was to get a striker, between them Carlton Cole and Andy Carroll have scored three times in the Premier League. We've got Marouanne Chamakh in from Arsenal which could work, although some, including the chairman's son, are not convinced. Some strengthening in defence would also be welcomed. The only player linked with a move has been Mohamed Diame which would be a huge loss.

George McCartney... How's he doing this time around? Is it our turn to buy him back yet?

MS: A bit like before really - solid if not spectacular. He's had a few injuries recently and we've also been linked with a move for Blackburn left-back Martin Olsson so he could be looking for a new club again soon!

Have you seen much of Sunderland this season? What do you make of us?

MS: I went to the game at Upton Park earlier in the season but not seen a whole lot of Sunderland since but know things haven't been going too well this season. I'm a bit biased as I've never believed the hype surrounding Martin O'Neill. He's one of those managers whose reputation seems to get better the longer he is out of the game.

Looking at the game itself, who should we be wary of coming up against? Where do you think that you'll find some joy against us?

MS: Beware Joe Cole crossing to James Collins! That's how we scored twice against Manchester United. As you'd expect from a Sam Allardyce team our best chances will come from set-pieces.

And on the other side of things, is there anyone in our team that could cause you problems, or any weak links in your team?

MS: Our full-backs aren't the strongest in the league so someone like Adam Johnson should get some joy. Steven Fletcher likes to score against us as well. According to my colleagues at Opta he's scored three goals in five games against West Ham, he's only scored more (4) against Wigan.

Does Kevin Nolan still do that ****ing chicken dance?

MS: Only when he scores and he hasn't done that since the start of November!

And can I bother you for a prediction?

MS: Sorry for those going but 0-0.

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