Throughout the course of what has turned out to be a pretty topsy-turvy season for the Hammers, many experts within the game have labelled Stewart Downing as the club’s most improved player this term – and they wouldn’t be far wrong.
The former Liverpool and Aston Villa man looks completely revitalized when playing in the middle. A fresh new confidence seems to sweep through the no.11 when he is given such a responsibility, and far from being the somewhat forgotten and isolated figure he often portrays when playing out wide, the recently re-called England international has turned into a brand new attacking outlet in his much more suited role.
Nothing seemingly lasts forever however – as with the introduction of Kevin Nolan back into his usual slot, as well as the somewhat unforeseeable drop in form of a certain Alex Song in the middle of the park – Downing just hasn’t been the same player since the turn of the year. Big Sam simply isn’t giving him the freedom that came oh so natural at the beginning of the season.
Whilst the 30-year-old still deserves great credit for his form so far this campaign, his recent inconsistency may have just about have cost him his place as the club’s most improved player across 2014/15.
That vacancy though, could easily be filled by James Collins.
Despite seemingly coming across as a bit out of his depth in West Ham’s opening Premier League fixture with Tottenham – a game in which the Welshman got sent off for two very avoidable fouls – the former Cardiff City defender has simply come on leaps and bounds since his initial struggles and has more than justified his role in Big Sam’s starting XI throughout this season.
Last year he looked all too slow coming out of the back. He would often lose concentration and give the ball away needlessly on many occasions, and it seemed that time was simply getting the better of ‘Ginge’ – whether or not his determination could make up for it.
Nowadays though, he is putting in top draw performances left, right and centre, and has even outshone the likes of Winston Reid and James Tomkins for large periods of the current campaign.
Aside from the odd mistake here and there, James Collins has ultimately been in formidable form for his manager this season – just ask Sergio Aguero how it was to play against him when the Hammers recorded that famous victory over Manchester City way back in October.
Yes, he might not be the most obvious name on the West Ham team sheet to receive praise this year, for there have been several others who have more than performed their duty in the claret & blue this season – yet for his increased sense of bravery, uncanny ability to seemingly block anything that comes his way, and his impressive consistency in the Hammers’ back-line – the 31-year-old Welshman certainly deserves his fair share of the credit.
For the extent that he has come on this season in comparison to last year’s campaign, James Collins pretty much deserves to go down as the club’s most improved player throughout 2014/15 so far.
As this season is far from over however, perhaps the Upton Park faithful may have a few more surprises left in store in terms of who really proves worthy of finishing the year with a bang.