Who will be the magnificent 7th?

LAST season saw West Ham move into 10th place in the Premier League in November and stay there until the end of the campaign in May. Not exactly thrilling, especially after the excitement of the Great Escape the previous year, but in the words of then m

LAST season saw West Ham move into 10th place in the Premier League in November and stay there until the end of the campaign in May.

Not exactly thrilling, especially after the excitement of the 'Great Escape' the previous year, but in the words of then manager Alan Curbishley, "a season of stability with West Ham staying off the back pages".

This time round, the Hammers have been once more plastered all over the back pages, with the repercussions of the Tevez affair still resounding round the club.

On the field though, things have been as low key as they were the previous season.

Curbishley's departure and Gianfranco Zola's arrival as manager signalled an early downturn in form and a flirt with the relegation zone, but once the Italian had settled in, the results began to come and West Ham began to climb the league table in style.

Victory at Wigan in that controversial match that saw Carlton Cole harshly dismissed, moved the Hammers up to seventh place and a chance of a spot in next season's Europa Cup.

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But since then things have not gone quite so smoothly for the Hammers. They have missed Cole badly and two draws against strugglers West Brom and Blackburn have seen the chasing pack move in and Steve Bruce's Wigan overtake them to claim that seventh spot.

So what chance do West Ham have of reaching seventh place and grabbing that place in Europe?

Certainly the run-in does not look too friendly for the Hammers.

They still have to play Chelsea and Liverpool at home, as well as travel to Aston Villa and Spurs.

Perhaps the games they are banking on to win are the home games against Sunderland this Saturday and Middles-brough on the final day of the campaign, plus the away clash at Stoke City.

But in the case of Boro and the Potters, they are teams who are battling for Premier League survival and may simply want it more than West Ham.

The only other game for the Hammers is the annual trip to Goodison Park where the Londoners have only won twice in the last 19 years, so a positive result on Merseyside may be as likely as a Sheffield United player saying he is not interested in suing the Hammers!

So who are the leading contenders in the battle for seventh.

Obviously Wigan are in position at the moment, and though they have to take on Everton, Arsenal and Man-chester United, they also have matches against Bolton Wanderers, West Brom, Stoke and Portsmouth, where they will be confident of earning points.

Manchester City, Spurs and Fulham are probably the only other three teams vying for that seventh spot and of those, it is Harry Redknapp's side that seem to have the momentum to go closest.

They have the advantage of a home game against the Hammers on April 11, while they also entertain Manchester City on May 16.

They do take on Manchester United and Liverpool away on the final day of the season, but home games against Newcastle and West Brom will surely glean maximum points and put them within a real chance of overhauling both the Hammers and Wigan.

West Ham seem to have two distinct disadvantages as they come to the final stretch of the season.

Firstly, their goal difference is inferior to all their rivals and with games against Chelsea and Liverpool to come, that is unlikely to improve too much.

And then more worryingly is their injury list. Valon Behrami is out for the rest of the campaign, Dean Ashton and Danny Gabbidon have already long since written off the season, while Jack Collison is looking for a return late in the month.

And now the latest injury to Cole playing for England on Saturday may be the final nail in the Hammers' coffin.

With West Ham forced to field Diego Tristan, David Di Michele and Freddie Sears up front in the last two games, the absence of the 11-goal hitman has never been more apparent.

The Recorder has analysed the remaining games of all the teams battling for seventh and come to the conclusion that the club may just miss out to Wigan on goal difference.

If Cole is out for any period of time though, it may not be quite that close.

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