Southampton will be looking to continue their strong run with a victory and a fifth consecutive clean sheet, but it will be far from straightforward up against another in-form side in West Ham United.
The defensive improvement from the Saints of late has coincided with the return of Fraser Forster in goal following a long-term injury, and his worth to the club was very much in evidence last time out at Arsenal, where a string of terrific saves kept out a second half onslaught from their opponents and preserved a point which lifted them to seventh place in the Premier League. The former Celtic star’s sheer presence between the posts must represent a huge psychological boost for those ahead of him.
At the other end they are also very much back at full strength with Graziano Pelle back in action, and it will be interesting to see whether the manager Ronald Koeman will alter his approach by fielding the Italian in the same starting XI as recent signing Charlie Austin. Whatever the decision may be, the feel-good factor has very much returned at the St. Mary’s Stadium in recent weeks and they will be confident here of moving to within just two points of their opponents.
An inexplicable sending off for visitors Aston Villa did just about enough to wake West Ham from their slumbers during the early exchanges of their match in midweek, where a much improved second half display saw them eventually emerge as comfortable 2-0 winners. As they spent long periods camped in opposition territory, it was captain Mark Noble who produced the game’s outstanding performance as he unleashed his full passing repertoire; including one fine ball to set up Michail Antonio for the opener.
Like his opposite number, Slaven Bilic has a huge array of strong attacking options to pick from even allowing for injuries. Antonio is proof of that having failed to make any impact on the first-team in his few few months as a Hammers player, and now his efforts have warranted a regular place in the side at the expense of Victor Moses. This should be a highly attractive game to watch between two sides making real progress, so it will be a tough one to call.
Austin suffered a knock during the week but has recovered in time to play for Southampton, who are unable to call upon Steven Davis and Matt Targett.
Emmanuel Emenike could make his debut for West Ham, who have Andy Carroll back available after injury. Defenders Sam Byram and Angelo Ogbonna could also feature.