Southampton v West Ham: Frustrating tie in store for strikers

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The race for the Europa League places could really start to hot up on Saturday evening as seventh-placed Southampton host West Ham sat one spot above them.

Slaven Bilic’s Hammers can move eight points clear in the race for Europe with victory on the south coast, an outcome priced up by Labrokes as a 17/4 shot.

The hosts are 4/6 favourites to secure all three points to continue a run of good form in front of their own fans.

Much of their upturn in form has been down to their improved tightness at the back, with Ronald Koeman’s men keeping four straight clean sheets.

Compare that to their previous 10 games in which they managed to keep their opponents out just once, and you can see what the Dutchman has been working on in training with his side.

Opponents West Ham are looking stronger than ever in defence with back-to-back clean sheets taking their tally to seven shut-outs in their last 11 in all competitions.

Defeat to Bilic’s men could be disastrous for the home side as they look for add another season of continental football to their honours list.

But the stakes are pretty high for the London side as well, with the lure of European football in their first season at the Olympic Stadium likely to work wonders in attracting big names in the summer.

With recent form suggesting it will be tough for the attacking players to break through and a loss not an option for either side, it could be a case of who blinks first when it comes to taking the initiative.

Previous meetings between the two in Hampshire don’t exactly inspire goals either, with the last six featuring less than three goals.

And with four of that sextet seeing the points shared, backing the 0-0 (8/1) or 1-1 (6/1) in the correct score market could be the way to go.

One man who will undoubtedly be fired up to break the deadlock will be Charlie Austin.

The Saints’ January signing is already off the mark at his new club, but netting against West Ham, who were apparently interested in acquiring his signature would surely be sweet.

Austin had to release a statement clarifying things after Hammers chairman David Sullivan suggested the 26-year-old had no ligaments in his knees last summer, so the 4/1 shot might be even more keen to put the Hammers to the sword.

If he does find the net, it could be that the former Queens Park Rangers man bags the only goal of the game with this looking likely to be a tense, low scoring affair.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.