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Watt View - West Ham A Stern Test Of Squad's Depth
Tuesday, 29th Dec 2020 09:17 by Matt Watts

The West Ham fixture will provide stern test of the squad's ability to cope with reduced numbers, as Saints go through a busy period wracked by injuries with the odd suspension thrown in for good measure.

The visit of West Ham to St Mary's will provide a stern test of Saints' ability to cope with the absence of influential personnel.

While the stalemate against Fulham at Craven Cottage on Boxing Day was disappointing, it was certainly a game Ralph Hasenhuttl's men could and should have claimed victory from.

With Che Adams unable to convert the point blank rebound from James Ward-Prowse's sublime free-kick, two excellent finishes from Shane Long and Theo Walcott chalked off by VAR and a clear handball in the penalty area not given, the chances were there.

In saying that, Saints were far from their best in the first half and, despite the assured performance from Ibrahima Diallo in the centre of midfield, this perhaps again laid bare the frailty of the first team squad.

It is in no doubt Jannik Vestergaard, Oriol Romeu and Danny Ings have all been central to the team's impressive campaign to-date and not having them regardless of the size and quality of the squad would be detrimental.

Nathan Redmond is also a key player both as a first team player and squad member and his absence always takes another layer of threat away.

In a way for me, the fact three points were within reach against a much-improved Fulham outfit despite being without these players provided a shred of comfort.

The visit of the Hammers will provide a different level of test though and, even with the return of Romeu, Saints will be without Vestergaard and are likely to be missing Ings and Redmond.

Against a very capable and threatening West Ham side which sit a place below Saints in the table and will be boosted by the potential return of former Saint Michail Antonio, the ability of Hasenhuttl's men to cope will be put to the test.

Much will come down to the Austrian's selection and tactics as he will expect any team he fields to perform to higher standards than demonstrated for periods against Fulham.

Many would have been looking for six points from these two fixtures given the progress made so far, so anything less than the four now possible will be a blow.

If Saints stutter against the Hammers then it will further highlight the need to invest in the transfer window to ensure there is sufficient quality to maintain consistency in the face of a depleted first eleven for the remainder of the season.

There is only so far the manager's style of play can succeed without the strength in quality needed to excel in the Premier League. If he is able to demonstrate that success can still be achieved against tough opponents it will go a long way to reassuring everyone the squad has just enough within it to continue progressing for now.

However, longer-term investment in additional fire power and central defensive cover will definitely be needed to avoid having weaknesses exposed when influential figures are unavailable.

Failure to claim victory will mean no win in four for Saints heading into a visit from the champions and trip to Leicester City, so there will be no let-up in the challenges ahead.

My hope is the FA Cup tie against Shrewsbury sandwiched between these two fixtures will be a more relaxed opportunity to involve some fringe players rather than a need to end a winless run stretching to five games.

Photo: Action Images

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underweststand added 10:07 - Dec 29
Only Ralph can decide on the CB partner for Bednarek (Stephens or Salisu) but I think the key will be in midfield where W. Ham are always very intense. I think we might see both Armstrong and Diallo at sometime during the game but the fitness of Danny Ings doesn't necessarily predict he will hit his previous good form, as he was half a yard short in the Sheffield, Arsenal and Man City games after his previous return -and it showed.

Otherwise ..we've had a extra day's rest whereas the Hanners last played on Sunday evening but stamina may be the key issue against a side we rarely take points off.

halftimeorange added 14:03 - Dec 29
A win would boost all of us but, a defeat will indicate the beginning of a possible slide. Either way, Saints are two or three proven decent players short to be expected to maintain the standards to this point of the season. If Djenepo, Salisu, Teller and N'Lundulu all click into place then we don't have a problem but, until they (and Diallo) regularly play we won't know.

Bazza added 16:07 - Dec 29
My worry is that (without Ralph) who will be a strong leader off, and on the pitch. We do have a tendency to appear a little soft and can be bullied. Hopefully we'll take a early lead and it won't be an issue.

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