After a disastrous run of form at home, in which his side has lost four out of the last six games, the West Ham United manager, Alan Pardew, is keeping his promotion hopes alive on the basis that the Hammers still look like genuine prospects away from home.
"We look like contenders away, but at home we are very nervous," he said after last weekend's home defeat by Preston North End. West Ham are unbeaten in eight away matches, albeit with six draws.
Pardew will come up against an opponent ready to challenge his theory, however, when they meet third-placed Sheffield United in today's tea-time televised match. Neil Warnock's Blades, unbeaten in their last five First Division games, have not lost at home in six, winning four.
Having guided his team to the play-off final last season, Warnock has cleverly maintained momentum at the club, making canny additions to the squad that have made up for the loss of such players as Michael Brown to the Premiership side Tottenham Hotspur.
Paul Shaw, his signing from Gillingham, is likely to make his debut this afternoon, and Alan Wright, the former Aston Villa player, will continue at left-back after turning his loan from Middlesbrough into a permanent switch. Pardew will be relieved if Dean Sturridge, on loan from Wolves, fails to recover from a hamstring injury in time to play.
Pardew plans to bolster his own resources following the sale of David James to Manchester City and will encourage the board to sell Jermain Defoe if a high enough offer is received. What disgruntled Hammers supporters must understand, he says, is that there is a balance to be struck to create a chance of promotion without jeopardising the club's financial future if it fails.
"The fans see losing James as a blow but we had no funds available to improve the team and there was a salary saving involved. Clubs can fall by the wayside after they are relegated and if we get ourselves into a mess, then people will be a lot more irritable than they are now."
The reserve goalkeeper Stephen Bywater may be given his first start for three years at Bramall Lane, although Pardew made his first move to strengthen his squad by signing Arsenal's second string goalkeeper Rami Shaaban on a month's loan.
Second-placed West Brom-wich Albion will take their new loan signing Mark Kinsella, who twice won promotion with Charlton, to Burnley, although their manager, Gary Megson, may delay his debut.
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