Despite distractions, West Ham focused on avoiding relegation
West Ham have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this week.
Following the raid on the London Stadium by HM Revenue and Customs as part of a fraud investigation, the club have announced that they are "cooperating fully" with the tax authorities. Business and financial records, computers and mobile phones were confiscated by officers as part of a wider tax investigation that took in the grounds of Newcastle and Chelsea.
Speculation was rampant in East London following the raid, and fans were understandably fearful of the larger repercussions that may arise if the club are found guilty of any wrongdoing. Inevitably, talk turned to the Carlos Tevez-Javier Mascherano affair and the seismic outcome that left the club £30 million out of pocket after an arbitration service ruled in favour of Sheffield United in the bitter row over the illegal signing of the Argentina-born pair in August 2006.
There's nothing to suggest the club should be guilty of any fraud in the current instance, but they have a horrible habit of shooting themselves in the foot periodically and there's obvious concern that events this week could just be another error by the club.
Owners David Gold and David Sullivan are astute businessman though, and they would have been only too aware of the results of not running a football club properly. Having bought West Ham from the previous Icelandic owners -- the consortium who oversaw the Tevez fiasco -- Gold and Sullivan were faced with still making payments on the £30m owed to Sheffield United. They would surely be unlikely to make a similar mistake, or supporters can only hope so.
Not that there's much that Slaven Bilic and his players can do about matters outside of the pitch. In fact, following the heartening performance against Everton on Saturday, this distraction is probably the last thing the manager wanted ahead of a contest against Stoke City with the team trying to move further clear of the relegation zone. Playing a fluid 3-5-2 formation against the high-flying Merseyside team, West Ham looked much the better side and were unlucky to only take a point in an entertaining 0-0 draw.
The team looked much stronger in defence and the three-man partnership of Winston Reid, Jose Fonte and James Collins never gave Romelu Lukaku and his colleagues a sniff of goal. With Arthur Masuaku and Edimilson Fernandes playing attacking wing-back roles, the whole side looked more dangerous going forward. Only the lack of a decent striker prevented the team from putting more pressure onto an Everton side that looked strangely out-of-sorts at times.
Of course, the lack of a cutting edge has been West Ham's problem all season and speculation that Bilic is interested in signing Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge in the summer have arisen again this week. This is a rumour that refuses to go away and if, as seems likely, Liverpool allow Sturridge to leave, the Hammers will surely be in a good position to tempt the 27-year-old to Stratford. The Birmingham-born striker would fancy his chances of forcing his way back into England contention in time for next year's World Cup in Russia, given a good first team run. West Ham would offer the player the opportunity to play regularly, and Sturridge is the type of marquee signing the club have been looking to make for some time.
Also with Sunderland on the brink of relegation, Jermain Defoe is almost certain to be leaving the North East and it would be a major surprise if the player didn't also find his way back to the East End. Even the hardest hearted Hammers fan will now find it difficult not to welcome back the player who famously demanded a transfer on the very day the club were relegated in 2003. A Sturridge-Defoe combination would give everyone a boost.
On Saturday, Bilic and West Ham take on a Stoke team who have, like the Hammers, had a mercurial season. If Bilic's side can play like they did against Everton, the manager might be confident of gaining three points, but Stoke have a good recent record against the Claret and Blue; West Ham have only won once against the Potters since 2011.
Nevertheless, the two clubs share a lot in common and their respective record against each other since their first meeting in 1911, is remarkably similar: West Ham have won 36 games against Stoke's 34 with the rest drawn.
A win would push the club through the significant 40-point mark for the season though and, with tough games against Liverpool and Spurs up next, the team might think this is their best chance of making that important Premier League point milestone.
Peter Thorne, aka Billy Blagg (@BillyBlaggEsq), is ESPN FC's West Ham blogger.