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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Disciplined draw with Blues suggests Irons are out of doldrums

Wolves can aim for more than top-flight consolidation

West Ham defended in numbers and were a threat on the counter-attack
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Five things we learned from the weekend

1 Hammers are on the up
West Ham were being heavily criticised after losing their opening four games but the 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea provided further evidence that they should not be considered relegation candidates.

The Hammers' star player Marko Arnautovic was unavailable due to injury and his absence probably saved the Blues from tasting defeat for the first time this season.

Chelsea looked jaded – perhaps understandably after they played PAOK in the Europa League on Thursday and arrived back in London only on Friday due to a delayed flight.

But West Ham made it difficult for them by defending in numbers and looked a threat on the counter-attack.

Poor finishing denied West Ham a victory but their performance was strong and disciplined and could give them a useful template to fall back on as they prepare for home games against Manchester United and Tottenham in the next few weeks.

2 Wolves could be heading for Europe
Consolidation is usually the aim of the game for newly-promoted teams but Wolves were in a class of their own in the Sky Bet Championship last season and could be pushing for European qualification on their return to the Premier League.

Their early-season schedule looked daunting but they impressed in a 1-1 draw at home to Manchester City and deserved at least a point when holding Manchester United to a 1-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday.

In one off matches against the top teams they have showed they can compete.

And, if they can achieve more consistency against the lesser teams, they might emerge as surprise contenders for a top-six finish.

Seventh place looks achievable but to finish even higher they will need to improve in front of goal.

The front three of Raul Jimenez, Helder Costa and Jota caused United a lot of problems but when the key moments arrived, Wolves were often let down by a poor finish or wayward final pass.

Addressing those fine details will be key to putting real pressure on the big six.

3 Magpies misery may continue
Newcastle continue to operate on a tight budget and their approach could be a false economy because relegation looks a strong possibility.

The best thing about Newcastle is the manager but there is only so much Rafa Benitez can do with such an ordinary group of players.
Given the tough early-season schedule, Newcastle's slow start is not a major surprise.

Defeats against Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal are understandable but Newcastle need to be attacking the other games and not playing for 0-0 draws, as they did at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Palace, hampered by an out-of-sorts Wilfried Zaha, failed to find the breakthrough but Newcastle had no obvious match-winner in the side and may find it difficult to get enough wins to stay out of the bottom three.

4 No end in sight to Stoke struggles
Stoke were the ante-post favourites in the Championship but they are 18th after nine games and there are no signs of improvement on the horizon.

Keeping the majority of their Premier League squad was supposed to stand the Potters in good stead but the players are not performing for Gary Rowett.

Defensively, they were a shambles in Saturday's 3-2 loss at home to Blackburn and, four days previously, had laboured to an unconvincing 1-0 success at home to injury-ravaged Swansea.

Rowett's side do not deserve to be any higher up the table and there is huge pressure on them to perform better at Rotherham next weekend.

5 Luton look ready for lift off
Luton have three wins, three draws and three defeats in Sky Bet League One but there has been nothing average about the Hatters' recent performances which indicate that a playoff push is on the cards.

The Bedfordshire side have won the shot count in seven of their nine matches and just need to start showing more of a clinical touch in front of goal.

Star striker Danny Hylton has missed the last four league games, including Saturday's 0-0 draw at Blackpool, with a hamstring strain, and his recovery could be key to lifting Luton up the table.

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Newcastle had no obvious match-winner in the side and may find it difficult to get enough wins to stay out of the bottom three
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