West Ham v Cardiff: Solid Hammers to make life difficult for new boys

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Upton Park plays host to Cardiff City’s Premier League debut but the Hammers, at 10/11 to win, are likely to be anything but welcoming to the side who beat them on the opening day of the Championship season just two years ago.

Under Sam Allardyce’s pragmatic direction, West Ham fared well on their return to the top flight last term, finishing in 10th place and suggesting that the former Bolton boss can establish the club’s presence in the top flight for years to come, in much the same way that he did at Bolton on a similarly mid-level budget.

And with a number of typically canny signings from Big Sam this summer, West Ham fans can be quietly confident on improving on last season’s finish. Allardyce’s main transfer focus was securing the permanent signature of Andy Carroll, the man who bagged seven goals while on loan from Liverpool.

Now that is confirmed, Allardyce has set about building a team around the hulking striker, with the £6m purchase of Stewart Downing proving exactly that.

Downing’s traditional hug-the-touchline wingplay is perfectly suited to finding early balls for Carroll, and the pair will be keen to prove their Anfield doubters wrong. As with his new teammate Joe Cole, Downing is well placed at his new club to rediscover the form that saw him an England squad regular.

While Carroll is not expected to overcome a heel injury in time to play tomorrow, Downing should start and is a tempting punt at 12/1 to rediscover his range and open the scoring.

Another to keep a close eye on is former Man Utd youngster Ravel Morrison, who has shown glimpses in pre-season – with five goals – of the sort of talent that prompted Old Trafford to take an interest in him initially.

The troubled 20-year-old spent last season on loan at Birmingham and, providing his off-field issues are behind him, could be a real emerging star for West Ham fans this season. He could well feature from the bench tomorrow and at 12/1 to score last offers something of a left-field punt.

Cardiff boss Malky Mackay will see West Ham as a blueprint for his own club’s future, though many are expecting the red-shirted Bluebirds to find life in the Premier League tougher than their opposition did last season.

Mackay’s men may have comfortably won the Championship last term by a margin of eight points over second-placed Hull, but being the best team in the second tier is not always a reliable measure of how well they will fare the following season – as the likes of Reading and QPR have recently discovered.

Cardiff are 7/5 third favourites for the drop but they too have spent wisely in the summer, with Andreas Cornelius, Steven Caulker and Gary Medel proving quality additions to the squad at a combined £26m.

Goals tend to come at a premium for newly-promoted sides though, and with Cornelius, the £8m forward charged with the task, out injured, a home clean sheet for a West Ham side who keep it tight at the back looks good value at 31/20.

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

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