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Downing: 'Hammers relishing top four challenge'

Stewart Downing insists West Ham are loving upsetting the odds after they gatecrashed the top four.

The Hammers are fourth in the Premier League ahead of today's trip to Sunderland.

Boss Sam Allardyce spent a reported £31million in the summer which was been dwarfed by the expenditure of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Summer buys Diafra Sahko, Cheikhou Kouyate and Aaron Cresswell have helped ease the pressure on Allardyce, who was one of the favourites to be sacked at the end of last season.

West Ham were fourth bottom on 14 points this time last year but Downing is revelling in being one of this season's surprise packages.

"It's good, teams have spent a lot of money and people expected them to be in the top four because of what they've spent but it doesn't always work that way," he said.

"We have bought very well, the players coming in have settled well. Sometimes you see players coming to the Premier League struggle to adapt. It's a big plus for us." Southampton and the Hammers have shocked the top dogs during the first half of the season and Downing reckons breaking the 'big four' stranglehold on the Champions League spots is important.

"I think it would be good for the league," he said.

"If you looked at the league at the minute you'd say it was false but we're there on merit, we've done well and we've played some big teams and played them off the park on the day.

"We've beaten Liverpool and Manchester City and ground out a win against Newcastle, which we would have lost last season. We have shown good qualities."

The Hammers head to the Stadium of Light today with ex-Liverpool winger Downing insisting they can maintain their European challenge thanks to their extra quality.

"We have to look at each game as it comes. It's a big thing for us, Christmas, hopefully we can get lucky with injuries and suspensions," said the 30-year-old.

"We had a difficult year last year, found it hard and were sucked in (to the relegation scrap) so this year we're playing with confidence."