We spoke to West Ham fan Christian Gare ahead of his team's trip down south to St. Mary's. We talk Sam Allardyce, why Kevin Nolan should call it quits, and Stewart Downing's impressive resurgence.
St. Mary's Musings: How would you assess your season so far?
Christian Gare: In a word: Fantastic. After the dismal displays that followed West Ham like a shadow last season it's very refreshing to see us not only scoring goals, but also playing better football. But, I'm a West Ham fan and need to moan about something and all I would say is how frustrating it is knowing we had a strike partnership who fired us into the top four at Christmas only to get pushed to one side because Andy Carroll is fit again.
Don't get me wrong, I rate Carroll and I think he is, at times, unplayable. But, that's the point: "at times" isn't good enough when Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia have been unplayable for a full 90 minutes. I don't quite understand how one of them can be benched when both are fit and have seen off the likes of Liverpool and Man City when playing together.
Having said that, I am happy with our position and the fact there is a possibility of going to Wembley this season in the FA Cup. This has been a great season before our last at the Boleyn Ground. <!-- ######## START FLOATED VIDEO SNIPPET ######## -->
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SMM: What were your season expectations before it started and how have they changed since?
CG: I'll keep it short and sweet.
Before: Top 10 and a cup run.
Now: Top 7 and Wembley.
SMM: Has Sam Allardyce made a believer out of you?
CG: I have been convinced from his appointment when we were relegated that he was the man to take us into the Olympic Stadium and I still believe this to be the case. I am not his biggest fan, however I was not part of the Sam Allardyce bashing last season, although I did come close. I feel he will keep us at a comfortable mid-table berth until we make the move.
However, I don't see him having a future beyond the Olympic move. The money from the move will help West Ham build and I want us to start playing a more consistent brand of football we have only seen in patches this season, Allardyce's stubbornness is a roadblock to this.
SMM: Who is West Ham's key man for Wednesday night?
CG: The revelation that has been Stewart Downing. He is playing like a man reborn in his new role at the top of our midfield diamond and as long as Allardyce plays him in his new favoured position then I think he will be key for West Ham. Moving him infield was an inspired decision by Big Sam and it has paid dividends: he is second only to Fabregas for chances created this season and has scored a bunch of goals - a few of which have been absolute belters.
I feel his breaking back into the England set up at the age of 29 is testament to how well he has been playing. Depending on formation and his position within the diamond, I think he is our key man.
SMM: What do you think of the outspoken West Ham ownership of David Gold and David Sullivan?
CG: I am a big fan of the two Davids. They have stabilised the club: stopping us from going into administration in the process, promised to clear the club's exterior debt by the time we enter the stadium and have ploughed millions into the club in an attempt to push us up the league. As far as I'm concerned, they've delivered. It makes a huge difference having two boyhood West Ham fans own the club.
There have been rumblings around West Ham fans that once the Hammers make the Olympic Stadium move they will sell for big bucks and I think they will. Either way, both them and Karren Brady need to be commended for what they have done.
SMM: If West Ham had the opportunity to qualify for the Europa League, would you want to?
CG: Ah, the poisoned chalice of the Europa League. I would love to have European football for the last season at Upton Park: it will give that grand old stadium the send off it deserves. However, I don't want to jeopardise our position in the league because of it. Stats show how English teams featuring in the Europa League are more likely to finish lower in the league than the previous season. But, when push comes to shove, yes I do want European football.
SMM: What do you think of West Ham's move to the Olympic Stadium?
CG: Honestly, I can't wait. It's the newest stadium in the country, has state of the art facilities, a 55,000 capacity and is in a prime location. It will elevate West Ham to a new level as a football club. I can almost guarantee the club will be bought once we make the move and it will allow us to challenge Europe's elite on a regular basis.
I will be sad to leave Upton Park: that place is home but I want my club to grow and succeed. There was some opposition among Hammers fans for the move but I think opposing the move is short sighted. West Ham is a great club and it deserves a great stadium.
West Ham sold a t-shirt a few years ago that had the following slogan:
"Football is my religion, Upton Park is my church"
In that case, the Olympic Stadium would be our cathedral.
The one disappointment I have had is the ticket pricing. The owners had an opportunity to change the norm in Premier League football by reducing ticket prices but the only prices we have seen so far have been for extortionate packages including access to a bar. I really hope the regular prices are dropped. West Ham are a family club and families should be able to afford to watch them play.
SMM: As an outsider, what do you think of Southampton? Do you see them as direct rivals to West Ham in the league?
CG: I must confess I have been a secret Southampton fan this year. You play fantastic football and it is a joy to watch a team that isn't held up by mega bucks play with such freedom and panache.
At the beginning of the season, when we were both in the top four, I felt I would want Saints to continue to stay at the top should West Ham falter. The establishment needs to be challenged and it needs to be challenged by a team with a much smaller budget. It would do wonders for the Premier League if Southampton managed to nab the fourth Champions League spot and I truly hope that they do.
SMM: If you could buy any one Saints player, who would it be and why?
CG: It might be seen as an odd choice, as I feel most would choose Morgan Schneiderlin, but Jose Fonte. We are going to lose Winston Reid in the summer and we need someone to replace him. Every time I have seen Fonte play, he has looked strong in the tackle, decent in the air and is a leader at the back. Having said that, if asked the same question last season, I probably would have gone for Dejan Lovren and that hasn't worked out too well for him!
SMM: If you could sell any West Ham player in your regular starting XI, who would it be and why?
CG: Kevin Nolan. I would like to note he had a good game against Manchester United and has been a good servant to the club over the past few years. However, he does not have the legs to play at this level anymore and Big Sam's inability to drop his favourite son has hurt us in games as Nolan either isn't quick enough or has a bad touch or pass.
He has become a liability and it is frustrating a lot of West Ham fans as he appears to be the first name on the teamsheet. I'm not one for booing players but going to any West Ham game is evidence of fans dislike towards him. I like the man but he needs to move on.
SMM: Finally, what is your prediction for the match?
I am hoping it will be a good game and as long as Andy Carroll isn't fit then I think it will be a fun counter-attacking West Ham team featuring at St. Mary's. Having said that. I can't see a huge amount of goals. My heart says 1-1. My head says 2-1 Saints.