West Ham United tend to be one of those clubs that if you don't actually support them, you don't really like them. With that said, though, we are delighted to see them back in the Premier League solely because it gives us another excuse to get the excellent Jacob Steinberg back on Roker Report.
Jacob is a busy man covering football for the Guardian, amongst others, as well as being the co-editor of The FCF. So lets waste no more time in finding out exactly how our opposition are feeling about this weekend's game and the season in general.
Hi Jacob, last time we spoke West Ham's relegation had just been confirmed. Now the club is back in the Premier League, what are the hopes for the season ahead?
Jacob Steinberg: Despite the promising start West Ham have made, I think most fans would simply accept staying in the division - a nice boring season would do after a few years of turmoil and uncertainty. From there, they can try to push on and build from there. The team is fairly solid but a couple of injuries to key players could leave the squad looking a bit short.
Sam Allardyce brings with him a unique style of football - hardly pretty, but very effective. What does the fan base make of the manager? Are they happy to sacrifice a "prettier" playing style in exchange for a more functional approach that can produce better results?
JS: I think it's a bit unfair to bracket Sam Allardyce simply as a long-ball manager. He showed at Bolton that he does know how to use exciting players (Okocha, Anelka, Djorkaeff and others). That said, West Ham do have a specific style, which is to get the ball forward quickly - the problem arises when that doesn't work, because sometimes they run out of ideas. If Plan A doesn't work, there often isn't a back-up. Last year I put that partly down to a lack of width and creativity - hopefully the arrivals of Matt Jarvis and Yossi Benayoun will help rectify that. You can't complain about three clean sheets in four games though. Those aren't typical West Ham stats. At the moment there appears to be an uneasy truce with the fans, but there needs to be more patience and understanding. I'd rather have Allardyce than Grant or Zola. Personally I think there are certain supporters at Upton Park who need to grow up. Or chill out. There's a bloke near me who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown last year whenever we even looked like conceding a goal. That's no good.
Allardyce has also told of how he uses a psychologist to help players before games. Has this produced any noticeable difference in how the players conduct themselves?
JS: They are tougher. Take the Norwich game, for example. They would have lost that late on under former managers. Allardyce is big on motivation - he recently spoke about the importance of ensuring a player is happy at home and that his family are settled.
The transfer of Andy Carroll was one of the summer's most intriguing deals. What are your thoughts on the big man? Is his injury a big blow - or can he be easily replaced?
JS: As he showed against Fulham, Andy Carroll is perfect for the style West Ham want to play. As he showed against Norwich, Carlton Cole is not - at least at the top level. I suspect Carroll staying fit - or indeed staying beyond January - will be the difference between how well West Ham do this season.
Kevin Nolan is well known as a good leader. How important has he been to the club since joining from Newcastle?
JS: Kevin Nolan is the kind of player you hate when he's playing against you. His wind-up antics are easier to appreciate when he's on your side though. He's always in the referee's ear, the opposition's face and also acts as an enforcer - none of it is pretty and in an ideal world that wouldn't be necessary but needs must. If he's not scoring though, he is often a passenger.
Aside from a loss at Swansea, West Ham have started well. How optimistic are you ahead of this weekend's game?
JS: You always expect a difficult game against a Martin O'Neill side but this is regarded as a winnable match. It's the kind of game you need to win when you've come up. If I supported Southampton, I'd be very worried about losing at home to Wigan.
Speaking of which, how do you rate Martin O'Neill's Sunderland side?
JS: I think Sunderland under-achieve a bit and get the feeling they have held back a little under O'Neill. There is the makings of a good side there, with McClean, Sessegnon, Fletcher and Johnson in the attack, but they sometimes seem to be too passive. Maybe that's more the case against the big sides though. Fletcher is a top signing though - his ability to score a simple goal out of nothing is invaluable.
Finally, would you care to give us a prediction for the game on Saturday?
JS: A tight 2-1 win for West Ham.
Many thanks to Jacob for his insight and time. For those of you who are Twitter-inclined, you can - and should - follow him by clicking HERE.