12/12/2014 10:09 GMT | Updated 11/02/2015 05:59 GMT

Five Factors Behind West Ham's Dramatic Improvement

This time last season, West Ham United were mid-way through their seemingly regular flirtation with relegation and were preparing for a painful second half of the season.

Just a few months later, however and Sam Allardyce's side sit third in the Premier League table and are aiming for European football. A suggestion like that would have raised a few eyebrows and caused a number of sniggers last season, but now it appears to be a real possibility.

Here are the five defining factors in the East London club's rebirth, other than the obvious arrival of new and improved players.

5. Strength in Depth

The Hammers always seem to suffer an injury crisis around Christmas time and have to delve into their highly regarded, but rarely used academy squad. As we saw last season, just a few injuries meant that Sam Allardyce struggled to field a side at all some weeks and points were dropped left, right and centre.

This season, however, the manager and board have bought wisely. As mentioned previously, the signings themselves are obvious improvements, but it is the number of quality individuals that were brought in that matters.

Instead of adding one or two key players and a number of future stars, West Ham recruited nine stars, with only Diego Poyet brought in for the future. For the first time in years, West Ham are able to field a genuinely exciting side even with a number of injuries, as we saw last week when they took all three points away to West Brom with key men missing.

4. Surprising the Big Guns

In West Ham's three games against the 'Big Sides' this season, they have won two and were unlucky to lose the third. They also lost on the opening day against Spurs, but many would disregard them as one of the big guns after the Hammers beat them three times last season.

An excellent victory against Liverpool and a phenomenal performance against Manchester City have been two of the highlights of the Hammers' season so far. They were unlucky not to leave Old Trafford with at least a point too, but came away with their heads held high.

Although many argue that beating the teams around you is first and foremost on the agenda, coming away from two tough ties with an unexpected six points is always a bonus and these two victories have been huge morale boosters for the boys in claret and blue.

3. Two Up Front

One of the biggest criticisms of Sam Allardyce's style of play last season was his reluctance to experiment with two strikers, opting instead to field either Andy Carroll or Carlton Cole for the majority of the season. In fact, he even fielded a side with six midfielders rather than two up front in a number of games.

This season, however, new arrivals Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia have been given a great deal of freedom as a deadly duo up front and have since scored for fun. Even with injuries hitting the squad, the Hammers have opted to play Carroll alongside someone else and it is paying dividends for the Irons.

The question now is what pairing will be able to cement their place in the starting eleven, but with such a vast array of diverse talent at his disposal, Big Sam will likely chop and change his strikeforce depending on who his opponent is. A welcome change to the stubborn and ineffective lone target man last season.

2. Goals Galore

Last season, Kevin Nolan was the Hammers' top scorer with seven goals. 15 games in, Diafra Sakho has netted seven times, despite featuring in just nine of those games. That speaks volumes.

West Ham's problem for the past few seasons had been the inability to score as many goals as they create, but this season, goals are coming from all over the place; defenders James Tomkins and Aaron Cresswell scoring in the last week.

Instead of heaping pressure on the likes of Carroll or Cole, West Ham fans can relax knowing that someone will score at some point; Mark Noble and Co have scored in all but two games this season and are the league's third highest scorers.

Although they have become weaker defensively, it is a small price to pay when you are so prolific in front of your opponent's goal.

1. Never Giving Up

​Last season, West Ham only came from behind once to pick up all three points - at home to Southampton. Just 15 games in, they have already done so twice; against West Brom and Swansea.

A year ago, if the Hammers were to concede first, many would accept that a point would be the best case scenario. Following their rejuvenation, however, a goal conceded seems to mean nothing to a side who have refused to give up this season.

Even if they fail to turn the game around, West Ham have been fantastic when going behind and you always expect them to get something from a game, even when the odds are stacked against them.

Part of this is down to the squad depth and ability to change things, part is due to the scoring abilities of all eleven players (except the goalkeeper) and so each change to this West Ham side seems to lead to other positive changes.

West Ham currently sit third in the Premier League table and at this moment in time, conceding first only seems to drive Sam Allardyce's men on to victory.

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