On The Spot: The other “other” dark horse

When the full-time whistle was blown at the King Power Stadium, West Ham must have been wondering if it was one point gained or two points dropped. And when they lost their FA Cup quarterfinal replay against Manchester United, and when they let Arsenal score an equalizer last weekend, you could feel the disappointment around the grounds.

Expectations have changed at Upton Park. No longer are they content to play second-fiddle. This season, they’ve completed the double over Liverpool, picked up four points each against Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal. West Ham has been the other Dark Horse this year. When the media has focused so much on Leicester the dark horse and Tottenham the other dark horse, it’s easy to forget about West Ham’s season.

Like Tottenham, West Ham has gone about their business quietly this year. Yes, Slaven Bilic may rue fielding a weakened side in the Europa League qualifiers defeat against Astra Giurgiu that would have brought continental football in Upton Park’s final season, but the lack of European football might have been a blessing in disguise as it kept the team fresh.

While many are quick to get on the Leicester bandwagon, the season’s script was rewritten in its opening match, when the Hammers turned up at the Emirates Stadium and showed us something special. The talk of the town was that Arsenal was finally ready to challenge for the title, having signed Chelsea’s Petr Cech and beating his former team in the Community Shield the previous weekend.  Yet it was the experienced Cech who made two glaring errors that gave the Hammers their two goals, while the Hammers’ commitment in that game was reflected in then 16-year-old debutant Reece Oxford.

West Ham has a group of quiet workers. Winston Reid and Angelo Ogbonna have been rock solid defensively, Aaron Cresswell is one of the best crossers of the ball in the League, Mark Noble, the silent worker and captain of the team, has worked hard alongside Cheikhou Kouyaté. The signing of Michail Antonio gives the Hammers strength and power on the wings and on defense, while Andy Carroll provides another option that, quite frankly, no other Premier League team can match at the moment.

West Ham’s meteoric rise perhaps mimics the fortunes of their summer signing of Dimitri Payet. His career, like West Ham’s past seasons, have been quiet and unspectacular. But just as he’s wow-ed the League with his free kicks and creativity this year, West Ham has stunned the league with its brand of committed and attacking football, best characterized by their final 10 minutes at Goodison Park that saw them come from two goals down to beat Everton. When the gates finally do close at Upton Park on May 10, you can bet that the atmosphere will be electric, like it has been all season.

West Ham, the Academy of Football, has produced leading players from Rio Ferdinand to Frank Lampard, only to see them leave the club for greener pastures. But West Ham, moving into the Olympic Stadium next season, will forever be blowing bubbles, with the hope that their dreams will no longer fade and die.