West Ham United-Everton Preview

TOM BENNETT (STATS European Football Writer)
The Associated Press

West Ham United will be looking to pull further clear of the relegation zone as they travel to Goodison Park to play Everton on Saturday.

Sam Allardyce's West Ham (8-7-12) looked to be in deep trouble at the start of 2014, but four straight wins and 13 points from their last five matches have seen them double their victory total for the season and pull seven points clear of the bottom three. Allardyce was full of praise for his team ahead of Saturday's tricky away encounter, and the Hammers will be boosted by the return of Andy Carroll from injury for the game.

"In that dark period we had we all battled our way through it which I thought we did really well, particularly sticking together as a squad of players," Allardyce said. "We all knew that if we got some of our key players back from the injuries and suspensions that we suffered that we would be better and we've gone out and proven that.

"Let's continue to prove that we are a team that's growing. We are a team that's going to finish the season strongly and we are a team that's hopefully going to finish in and around the position we finished last year. That's the process of growing slowly in the Premier League."

Everton (12-9-5) have won just one of their last five league games to slip well off the pace in the race for Champions League qualification, but may yet claim a Europa League berth for the next campaign. The Toffees have struggled for goals of late, netting just once in their last four matches, but will welcome back the inspirational Romelu Lukaku from injury.

"Romelu, when you see him as a player, you build a perception of a target man, a strong man who is good with his back to play and you feel that's the type of player he is," said Everton manager Roberto Martinez. "But he can do anything. He's good in the box, he attacks the ball well, he's a good finisher. He can use the counter-attack with his pace and power. As a number nine, he's as complete as you're going to get in world football.

"In any season, the most important part is the final third," added Martinez about the club's targets for the remainder of the season. "The final 10 weeks is when you can control the small margins to win things and finish high in the table. Clearly, you need the players to enjoy their football and be focused on what is in front of them."

Everton have injury doubts over Antolin Alcaraz (muscle fatigue), while Phil Jagielka (hamstring), Lacina Traore (hamstring), Bryan Oviedo (broken leg), Arouna Kone (knee) and Darron Gibson (knee) are out. West Ham are missing Marco Borriello (hamstring), Ricardo Vaz Te (hamstring) and Joey O'Brien (shoulder).

The Toffees scored twice in the last seven minutes to rally past West Ham 3-2 when these teams met at Upton Park in September. The Hammers have failed to win any of their last 11 meetings (0-4-7) with Everton in the Premier League.