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Everton look to arrest the slide against West Ham

Toffees chase their first win in six games against the Hammers

Everton v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Though we are still far too early in the season to talk about six-pointers and must-win matches, Sunday’s game against West Ham does have a very significant feel about it.

Everton’s fine opening to the season is starting to feel like a distant memory as the team’s form begins to slide in the same direction as the autumn weather.

With the nights drawing in the players need to somehow stop the rot and make sure we don’t endure yet another winter of discontent.

Last weekend’s dismal defeat at Burnley made it five games without a win in all competitions and the team’s supposedly kind early fixture list is rapidly dwindling.

After Sunday’s game five out of Everton’s next seven matches will be against teams currently in the top eight.

With the first of those games at Stamford Bridge next week – a ground Everton haven’t won at in the league since 1994 – the Toffees desperately need to regain some momentum.

The problem is I can’t recall Everton actually playing well across a whole 90 minutes this season and that includes early wins against West Brom, Stoke and Sunderland.

Ronald Koeman hasn’t been helped by an alarming lack of form and consistency from a clutch of key first-team players, resulting in sloppy, disjointed performances.

Koeman has tried his best to shuffle his attacking pack but the likes of Kevin Mirallas, Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley look out of sorts no matter what combination they are played in.

With the January transfer window still a long way off Koeman somehow needs to spark some life in his existing players before he can think about freshening up the squad with new signings.

Even Everton’s strength this season, their defence, was let down at Turf Moor last week by some woeful individual displays - most notably the usually reliable Phil Jagielka.

This all sounds a bit hyperbolic given Everton are sixth in the league having made their best start to a season in a decade. But those early displays cannot be used to mask the recent slide.

With tough fixtures ahead over the winter the team look to be at something of an early crossroads at Goodison Park on Sunday.

The opposition

West Ham have certainly had an eventful campaign so far.

Optimism was sky-high over the summer after a fine year last time out saw them qualify for Europe as well as their much-publicised move to the London 2012 Olympic Stadium.

It’s fair to say things nosedived rapidly.

The Hammers tumbled out of the Europa League at the play-off round in August while their move to the rather blandly re-named London Stadium has been far from comfortable.

Issues with segregation and policing have resulted in chaotic scenes at almost every home game, culminating in Wednesday’s ugly encounter with Chelsea that saw both sets of supporters involved in violent clashes in the stands.

On the pitch things haven’t been much better. West Ham lost four out of their first five league games to put manager Slaven Bilic under severe pressure.

Since then things have improved with back-to-back league wins followed up by that midweek EFL Cup victory against Chelsea.

Though not usually seen as a major rival there was some edge to both encounters last season as well as tension between the two sets of supporters on social media.

This faux rivalry stemmed from some West Ham fans’ hysterical reaction to a tackle by James McCarthy on Dimitri Payet that saw the Frenchman suffer ankle ligament damage.

Their bizarre over-the-top reaction continued well after that game and spilled over into the Goodison encounter in March where Everton, approaching the nadir under Roberto Martinez, conceded a 2-0 goal lead in the final 12 minutes to lose 3-2.

That defeat alone should be enough motivation to put things right on Sunday. Though the direction of Everton’s season could also rest on getting a positive result.

Team news

Ronald Koeman confirmed in his weekly press conference that Leighton Baines and James McCarthy will again miss out with hamstring injuries.

Matthew Pennington, Tyias Browning, Darron Gibson and Muhamed Besic are long-term absentees while Enner Valencia is ineligible.

Final word

After all their early struggles West Ham finally seem to be hitting form at the wrong time as far as Everton are concerned.

Everton have had a clear week to bounce back from their Burnley disappointment and the hope is that we see an appropriate response.

I have this nagging feeling though that West Ham will escape with a point.

Predicted starting XI: Stekelenburg, Oviedo, Williams, Jagielka, Coleman, Barry, Gueye, Bolaise, Barkley, Lennon, Lukaku.