West Ham's porous defence set to be exposed by Lukaku's Everton
The point that West Ham gained in the 2-2 draw with Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Saturday may prove to be crucial. Ten points ahead of Swansea with a better goal difference, it would take a huge turn of form for the Welsh club to pull the Hammers back into the relegation pack.
Season form would suggest the fight against the drop to the Championship is likely to be a straight one between Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Swansea and Hull.
Of course, with five games left of the season and three at home, there should really be no worries about Slaven Bilic's men finishing in a comfortable midtable position. However, so porous has been the Hammers' defence, supporters are genuinely concerned that the home matches against Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham could all end in defeat. That would need the team looking to gain something at Stoke or Burnley in their remaining away games. With confidence and expectation at a low, the truth is few expect anything from Bilic's stumbling mess of a side.
It may be that, with pressure off, some of the players signed during the year may come into their own and give fans a timely boost for the summer. Few are holding their breath, however.
Sunderland had failed to score in more than 700 minutes of football before meeting West Ham. It was inevitable that the Black Cats would end that drought at some time against Bilic's men, and so it proved. The late equaliser that Fabio Borini scored was no more than Sunderland deserved perhaps, but the manner of it was further damnation of the Hammers' defensive frailties. Darren Randolph's flap at a long punt into the area is the type of thing any Premier League side should expect and be able to defend. The Hammers have conceded 59 goals this season however, and most of them have been self-inflicted.
Quite what Bilic will do about the problem this summer is difficult to fathom. Jose Fonte was transferred from Southampton for an £8 million fee to deal with the defensive issues, but the Portuguese international has presided over just two wins in that time and the team have shipped 23 goals in the process. A stalwart at the back in his time on the South Coast, it seems unlikely the player can have lost such form in so short a time.
Not that Fonte can burden the problem alone; the difficulties aren't only in central defence. The team have looked unsure on both flanks with Aaron Cresswell struggling for form since his early season injury, while the right-back problems have been going back several seasons. The defence can rightly claim that they have been given scant protection from the midfield too.
As a former defender of note himself, Bilic seems surprisingly unable to stem the rot in his back four and it is the reason that rumours about the manager's position refuse to go away.
As if this wasn't enough for the beleaguered Croatian, West Ham welcome bogey side Everton to the London Stadium on Saturday. Leading the line for the opposition will be Romelu Lukaku, a man who has scored against West Ham in each of his past nine games. The Belgian striker leads the Premier League goalscoring charts with 24 goals and is looking for a few more to enhance his reputation as he seeks a move away from Merseyside.
Usually when things are going against them, East Londoners display a nice line in gallows humour and the visit of Lukaku has brought that out in full this week. The crowd in Stratford are likely to be in good humour, if nothing else.
At the sight of a claret and blue shirt, Lukaku normally moves into another gear and it would be a brave gambler who would bet against the striker increasing his tally at the London Stadium on Saturday.
Peter Thorne, aka Billy Blagg (@BillyBlaggEsq), is ESPN FC's West Ham blogger.