LONDON // The appointment of Wally Downes as a coach at West Ham United could well prove as significant for the club's battle to avert relegation as the dismissal of Ray Wilkins as Chelsea's assistant manager has appeared to affect the champions' title defence.
Officially Downes has been recruited as a "defensive coach". But it is likely his portfolio will soon be far wider and he may well be a "Trojan horse" for the eventual removal of Avram Grant as manager and the potential return of the club's former boss, Alan Pardew.
Grant's authority was undermined at the start of the week when Zeljko Petrovic, the Montenegrin whom he appointed as his assistant manager when he took over from Gianfranco Zola in the summer, was sacked.
Petrovic was effectively the victim of a player revolt against his methods - and therefore Grant's.
In last Saturday's 3-0 surrender at Liverpool, the striker Carlton Cole made a very public gesture of discontent towards Petrovic when he subbed in the second half before criticising Grant's methods. He apologised yesterday.
The club's joint owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, who until now have backed Grant, wasted little time in sacking Petrovic and bringing in Downes.
Initially Downes will take a low profile, working to improve the team's limp defence which has leaked 25 goals this season in 14 league games. He will work in tandem with the senior coaches Kevin Keen and Paul Groves.
It is likely, however, that Downes will also observe the whole of the coaching situation at the club's Chadwell Heath training ground. That will put more heat on Grant.
Sullivan and Gold are desperate not to lose face over their decision to appoint Grant nor take on more expense by paying him off. Karen Brady, the club's vice chairman, went out of her way last week to insist the club would not "press the panic button" and sack Grant so soon.
But 11 months after rescuing West Ham from bankruptcy when they bought the club from the previous Icelandic owners, Sullivan and Gold are starting to sweat over the financial disaster of relegation.
The Hammers are bottom of the league, having won just one game this season. They host Wigan Athletic tomorrow.
Downes was an original member of Wimbledon's "Crazy Gang" in the 1980s, a team which rose from non-league to the first division and won the 1988 FA Cup.
After retiring as player he has earned a reputation within the game as a blunt-talking but perceptive coach, having worked with Steve Coppell at Reading and most recently Pardew at Southampton. Many in the game think he has the ability to be a No 1 in his own right.
Downes will focus first on the job at hand - improve a team which has just nine points and a negative goal difference of 25.
If he makes an impact it might not be long before it is suggested that the man now known by some around the club as Average Grant move "upstairs" to assume the role of general manager.
That would open the way for Downes to become the top man - or work alongside Pardew, who led the club back to the Premier League in 2005 after West Ham were last relegated.