Belfast Telegraph

Allardyce aims to stay focused

West Ham manager Sam Allardyce accepts his toughest job will be staying focused in the wake of a promising start to the Barclays Premier League season.

The Irons host struggling Aston Villa on Saturday on the back of four wins from the last six matches, which have propelled them up into fifth place, behind Arsenal only on goal difference.

Striker Diafra Sakho is expected to return from a shoulder injury, having scored in six consecutive league games including the impressive 2-1 win over champions Manchester City at the Boleyn Ground a fortnight ago.

Allardyce, though, will attempt to keep a lid on any complacency, with some Hammers' fans already dreaming of Europe.

"It is a difficult one, the players in our team and squad, have to maintain 100 per cent almost - a physical, mental, technical and tactical attitude to every game," he said.

"They have to be on top form to have a chance of winning every game they play. Anything less than that then the opposition in the Premier League is so strong - whether you play the bottom or top team - that you will get beat.

"Our level has to be within 95-100 per cent of our capabilities. Some of the big sides can play not well at all but win the game. We are not that level. That is a difficult thing to maintain.

"In the past, I have experienced it, particularly when I was at Bolton. Eventually, though, we got there, we got a team that could play consistently well and get results to maintain our position in the top half of the Premier League."

The summer additions of Senegal forward Sakho and Ecuador international Enner Valencia along with former Arsenal midfielder Alex Song, on loan from Barcelona, have added a new dynamic to the West Ham squad which at times struggled for consistency last season, with Allardyce often criticised for a perceived negative approach.

However, having seen how quickly teams can fall from grace, with Villa losing six in a row since winning at Liverpool on September 13, Allardyce will keep all targets realistic for the time being.

"It is only 10 games, it is far too early. Look at Aston Villa's start: everyone was going on what a fantastic start they had, with 10 points in the first four or five games. Look at how quickly it can turn," said Allardyce, who was named manager of the month for October, while Sakho scooped the player award.

"Our big test comes in the end of November and December when all the games come thick and fast.

"I believe this year, if we keep the squad fit, then we have a much better November and December than we have had in recent years.

"So until we get to the end of this year, I am not going to change any areas of the targets we are trying to hit."

Paul Lambert has urged his critics to look at the bigger picture as the pressure grows on the Aston Villa boss.

Villa go to West Ham on Saturday having lost their last six Barclays Premier League games to sit just above the drop zone.

In defeats to Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton, QPR and Tottenham they have scored just once - against Spurs - and are without the suspended Christian Benteke at Upton Park.

But Lambert insisted the context of Villa's run must be taken into account as he looks to arrest their slide.

"You're hoping to pick up a lot more points, but there's been no real let up," he said.

"People haven't seen the way it's happened.

"If we'd taken three points the other night, we'd have been above Spurs and level with Man United.

"We've played 10 games, and six of them have been against the top six from last year.

"People say 'You took points from them last year' but we took points from Liverpool and should have done against Tottenham.

"Against Man City we were eight minutes away from getting something - the difference this time is we've bounced from one to the other in succession, maybe last year we had one, the four games later there was another one.

"There was a bit of respite.

"This time they've gone bang-bang-bang, straight through them.

"Mentally and physically it's a major thing.

"We are one of the very few teams that's played the top six.

"Some teams have only played them once.

"It's not an excuse, it's the way it's worked out."

Gabby Agbonlahor is expected to replace the suspended Benteke after his red card against Tottenham on Sunday.

Philippe Senderos may return after a thigh injury and Lambert knows the players are also under pressure to perform but is confident they will not be affected.

"That happens - but look at Sunday, the confidence wasn't lacking. They were well in that game before circumstances changed the whole thing," he said.

"In training, the players haven't been a problem - but it's easy to say that. With your own eyes you can see they'll be fine."

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