If Sam Allardyce was asked to name the first names on his West Ham teamsheet, he would probably say Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble and Andy Carroll, but results suggest that all three of these should be overtaken by Joey O’Brien.
The Hammers sit in the dizzy heights of sixth in the Premier League after their victory at Newcastle and 6/4 looks a fine price at present that West Ham finish in the top half this season.
More will become clear after the next five fixtures, where they travel to Tottenham and Manchester United, while hosting Stoke, Chelsea and Liverpool at Upton Park, but as long as O’Brien stays fit, they must have a chance.
West Ham are unbeaten in the full-back’s eight games this season, a run consisting of five wins and three draws.
Meanwhile, this sequence has included six clean sheets and Adel Taarabt’s goal for QPR was scored after O’Brien was taken off injured.
Therefore, Sunderland’s Steven Fletcher remains the only player in the Premier League this season to have scored against West Ham when O’Brien has been on the pitch.
This should be a reason to endear him to the Hammers faithful, who arguably do not rate him too highly at present despite his versatility and lack of mistakes.
His roots as a central midfielder mean he is good on the ball, while remaining solid in the tackle and more than adequate from a positional standpoint.
This is where he perhaps had the edge over George McCartney when asked to fill in at left-back, with McCartney more attack minded.
Meanwhile, Guy Demel is more likely to get beat if left one-on-one and is certainly not as assured in possession, with both points being proved when he was brought on in the Newcastle success.
There is no stand-alone reason why West Ham’s results have been so much better with O’Brien in the team, but it must be more than pure coincidence.
What is noted is that their heavier defeats without O’Brien have come against Swansea, Arsenal and Wigan, who all like to keep the ball on the deck and play possession football.
This suggests that O’Brien remains more switched on when tracking runners and organising others.
Allardyce should certainly see him as first-choice starter if fit if he wants to give West Ham the best chance of finishing in the top half this season.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.